Mary Poppins Returns is practically perfect
04 January, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns
MARY POPPINS RETURNS
Directed by Rob Marshall
WHAT a daunting moment it must be to have your agent call you up and say: “I’ve landed you a rather big role. You are going to be Mary Poppins.”
How do you follow Julie Andrews? How do you make it your own (or do you even bother trying?). It feels like a poisoned chalice – a big-time Disney job impossible to say no to (the cinematic equivalent, perhaps, of being offered the job as manager of Manchester United), but one that whichever way you play it will be hit with criticism: either you’re doing a weak pastiche of the original, or trying to make it your own, and therefore not being respectful.
So massive props to the talented Emily Blunt, who floats down from the skies clutching her talking brolly to come to the rescue of the Banks family.
Set in the 1930s, we learn that Michael (Ben Whishaw) is a widower and since he lost his wife, things have been tricky at Cherry Tree Lane, where he lives in the family home of yesteryear. Sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), a Fabian, Bloomsbury Set type campaigning for “the workers” gives the film a little globule of politics.
Banks has taken out a loan against his home and is behind with the payments: repossession looms as evil bank manager Wilkins (Colin Firth) sees a buck to be made, until Mary swans in and works her magic.
Dick Van Dyke returns in Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Poppins Returns is one of those films that surely did not have to be made. Why revisit such a seminal moment in film history? But unlike so many other cashing-in attempts to draw on films that have a special place in our hearts – think catastrophes such as Blues Brothers 2000 – this is a wholly enjoyable and immersive piece of cinema that not only pays respectful homage to the original, but stands on its own two feet nicely as well – and in no small part to the immense screen presence of Emily. Hearing her roll lines that are prefixed with catchphrases such as “pish-posh” and “spit-spot” make her sound like a modern Joyce Grenfell.
It looks terrific, from the intricate stage sets and costumes to the wonderfully retro-cartoon moments. Fun characters pop up in each scene: Mary’s Eastern European-accented cousin Topsy, played with delicious zip by Meryl Streep, has one of the more catchy tune moments in the film. Instead of Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep, Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda puts in a turn as a gas lamp-lighter Jack – and their homage to Step In Time is again a classic song and dance number, referencing the great choreography of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
In the opening credits, various musical directors, composers and collaborators are name checked, highlighting their importance in this adventure – and the music, with orchestral strings, zippy lyrics, and some nice meaning hidden among all the razzmatazz, again shows that this is no pale imitation.
Rob Marshall has managed to take an iconic moment in film, give it a modern rub down and a spruce up, and create a worthy sequel.
Welcome back, Mary – you’re looking spectacularly good.