It was 1964 when the world was introduced to a practically-perfect British nanny in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins. Back then, Julie Andrews starred as the eponymous character alongside Dick van Dyke and David Tomlinson. It was an instant hit and became one of Disney’s most-loved feature films.
That is, by everyone apart from the author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers. So incensed by what she felt was Disney’s misunderstanding of her source material, she banned all future work with the studio.
So, 54 years later and with Travers’ estate finally agreeing to a sequel (I wonder how much Disney executives had to pay for that), we get a sequel that no-one was really asking for. Mary Poppins Returns brings the titular character back into the hearts of newcomers and fans alike, but is the film as practically-perfect in every way like its lead? Or is it a bit of a dud?
Now an adult with three children, bank teller Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) learns that his house will be repossessed in five days unless he can pay back a loan. His only hope is to find a missing certificate that shows proof of valuable shares that his father left him years earlier. Just as all seems lost, Michael and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) receive the surprise of a lifetime when Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), the beloved nanny from their childhood, arrives to save the day and take the Banks family on a magical, fun-filled adventure.
Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins? You’re right to be sceptical. After all, how can an American actress bring to life a character so quintessentially British? Remarkably, she does it, with a cracking British accent to match. Blunt is, as she is in all her films, picture-perfect and oozing charisma. In fact, the entire cast is fabulous with the likes of Colin Firth and Meryl Streep joining the party as a sneaky bank manager and Mary Poppins’ cousin respectively. We’ve also got Julie Walters popping up every now and then as Ellen the housekeeper.
The new Banks children are absolutely wonderful. Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson show a range of emotions that would make seasoned actors blush, but here they thrive and look like they were having a blast. And that’s a trait clearly shared by the entire cast. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s plucky lamp-lighter, Jack, is obviously having the time of his life and this makes the whimsical nature of Mary Poppins Returns even more apparent.
In its hey-day, Mary Poppins was a technical revolution. Mixing live-action with colourful animation made the screen burst alive with imagination. Of course, special effects have moved on in the 50+ years that Mary has been away from our screens, but you’ll be pleased to know that each sequence feels just as magical.
From under the sea adventures to topsy-turvy houses, the ‘action’ scenes are beautifully filmed by director Rob Marshall. One scene in particular, involving hundreds of lamp-lighters is absolutely astounding and exquisitely choreographed.
The finale is typical sickly-sweet Disney, but in a movie populated by cartoon penguins, Irish dogs and the meaning of childhood, why shouldn’t it be?
The setting of Depression-era London lives and breathes before your very eyes. The CGI and practical effects used to create the capital in 1935 is astonishing, and testament to the teams behind the film. That £130million budget was clearly very well spent.
Then there are the songs. We all know the masterpieces from the original, but will there be any here that children will still be singing along to when they grow older? That’s debatable, but there are three or four that have the potential to be future classics. Look out for Trip the Light Fantastic, which makes up part of the film’s best scenes.
The finale is typical sickly-sweet Disney, but in a movie populated by cartoon penguins, Irish dogs and the meaning of childhood, why shouldn’t it be? The world is filled with such atrocities, it’s nice to sit back, relax with the family and enjoy a film that allows you to escape into your own imagination.
Any downsides? Well, while the pacing is nearly spot on, there’s no denying that Mary Poppins Returns is a long film by family film standards. At 130 minutes, it feels like this sequel is perhaps more for fans of the original than the children that the older film was clearly made for.
But these are small gripes in a sequel that pleasantly surprises on each and every turn. While lacking in the typical Disney poignancy, the film’s message is read loud and clear. There’s no doubt that Mary Poppins Returns is yet another hit for the studio and you’re sure to leave the cinema with a huge smile on your face. Mary is back and she means business.