'Mary Poppins Returns' is a glorious tribute to the original, but with plenty of fresh ideas [Movie Review]

'Mary Poppins Returns' is a glorious tribute to the original, but with plenty of fresh ideas [Movie Review]

While this follow-up pays its respects to the 1964 film, the songs, performances by stars including Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and its sheer joy make it a worthy sequel in its own right

When they decided to make a long-overdue follow-up to Mary Poppins, the filmmakers couldve gone with a remake. But presumably they recognised that the Disney classic is, as the title character would say herself, practically perfect in every way, and any attempt to modernise, or improve the original wouldve been roundly derided by long-time fans, their children and grandchildren.

Instead, they sensibly wrote Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel which pays so much homage to the 1964 film, yet with so many original ideas, that even the most hardcore Poppins addict cant help but be enchanted.

Rob Marshall’s film is set 20-odd years after the original, the Banks children, Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw) are all grown-up. Michael is a widower with three children, who he lives with in his childhood home, 17 Cherry Tree Lane. But times are tough: Britain is in the throes of an economic depression; Michael, who works at the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank like his father before him, has taken out a loan. If he doesnt pay it back by the end of the week, the family will lose the house.

Their only possible lifeline is a certificate for shares in the bank, which his father had bought, but where it could possibly be is another matter entirely. 

If it had come out for Christmas like it did everywhere else, we would definitely have put Mary Poppins Returns on this list

Into this madness drops (literally) Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), who was the childrens nanny all those years ago, and who has come to sort things out. Like their father and aunt before them, Annabel, John and Georgie arent quite sure what to make of this curious character, but she soon has them disappearing down plugholes and into the artwork of Royal Doulton bowls.

These magical adventures are the most obvious tribute to the original film. Stepping into the bowls artwork, for example, is a play on the pavement drawings of the first film (Marys outfit is of a similarly Edwardian design, and the animated penguins make an appearance). Where the older film had chimney sweeps stepping in time, this film has lamplighters, or leeries led by Jack (a marvellous Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose Cockney accent is actually believable) tripping the light fantastic. And in place of the visit to Uncle Albert, who floats when he laughs, Mary takes the children to visit her cousin Topsy whose home... well, lets just say she looks at things a different way.

Lin-Manuel Miranda on colour-blind casting and perfecting his Cockney accent

But theres far more to Mary Poppins Returns than an awestruck paean filled with A-list (nay, A+ list) actors. While strains of the original soundtrack can be heard in places, the songs are all original, and fresh, and hummable. None may quite match the magic of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but there is real heart in the ballads A Conversation and The Place Where Lost Things Go; A Cover is Not The Book gives Miranda the opportunity to show off the rapping skills he became famous for in Hamilton (although Blunt’s one false step here is the strange accent choice); and youd have to be pretty cunical not to be wowed by Trip a Little Light Fantastic and its somersaulting leeries.

The set and costumes are as gorgeous as you'd expect from a massive Disney production, and the child actors given enough chance to shine, despite so much of the plot focusing on the adults.

Its taken 54 years for this to get here; and while Blunt could never outshine Julie Andrews sublime performance in the first Disney film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, she is the best possible contemporary choice to continue the Poppins story. The only real disappointment? That Dame Julie didnt join her co-star Dick Van Dyke in a standing-ovation-worthy cameo.

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