When TOY STORY 3 was released in 2010, a full 11 years after TOY STORY 2, there was some concern that the gap was too wide. Can sequels survive that far apart? Turns out they can. I’m not sure if this is a record or not, but MARY POPPINS RETURNS comes 54 years after the first installment, a standalone classic that has been loved by millions the world over. Now that’s pressure!
Director Rob Marshall (CHICAGO) is fiercely protective of the original film, and it shows as the movie unfolds. Subtle homages that never go too far are peppered throughout the movie, providing more continuity than outright fan service. Marshall said when approaching the project he asked himself what he would want to see in a MARY POPPINS sequel. He has great instincts: MARY POPPINS RETURNS is a triumph.
Marshall assembled a dream team here. Writer Dave Magee (THE LIFE OF PI) strikes the right tone throughout, balancing real pathos with British fantasy. Composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman (SMASH) provide the heartbeat of the movie with songs that fit right in alongside the Richard and Robert Sherman score we all know and love. Shaiman’s score is pure joy from start to finish; a treat for anyone who misses the sweeping orchestral thrills of yesteryear.
Emily Blunt (A QUIET PLACE) assumes the parrot-headed mantle with grace and ease, creating a new, sassier Mary Poppins rooted more in P.L. Travers’ books than Julie Andrews’ cinematic take. Lin-Manuel Miranda (HAMILTON) makes his screen debut as Jack, a lamplighter who “apprenticed with Bert” and provides a mega-watt smile to put the wayward Banks children at ease.
Ben Whishaw (PADDINGTON) shines as Michael Banks, a thankless role in a movie filled with showy ones. Whishaw is relied upon to provide the pain at the base of the new film’s story, and he does so without going over the top. Emily Mortimer (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL) is suitably quirky as Jane Banks, a labor activist with a penchant for vests.
Meryl Streep (MAMMA MIA) and Colin Firth (LOVE ACTUALLY) make the most of smaller, but pivotal roles. Streep in particular appears to be living her best life as Topsy, employing a perfectly bonkers Russian accent and standing on her head. The film draws from the books to provide magical situations to hang on the plot, and Travers employed a consistent style throughout the Poppins adventures. So if the trip into the Royal Doulton bowl, or the tribe of lamplighters feel similar to chalk drawings and chimney sweeps, that’s by design.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS is joy, optimism, nostalgia, whimsy, sadness, grief – it’s magic. In a world where everything seems to be falling apart, the idea of Mary Poppins, descending from the clouds to fix everything, should prove to be more popular than ever. Bring some tissues; anyone who has long loved Mary will tear up more than once. Congratulations to Disney and the production team for creating a movie Walt would be proud of.