The original Mary Poppins was an amazing success for Disney way back in 1964, even being nominated for the Best Picture award and winning Best Actress at the Oscars. Now the long awaited sequel has finally been made, picking up 25 years later with the Banks children now grown up and Michael having had 3 children of his own.
There are many reasons that the original is rightly revered, but it is certainly not without its flaws, chief amongst which is the lack of any kind of discernible story. Mary Poppins appears to nanny Jane and Michael despite the fact that they’re clearly fairly well behaved and kind children, and proceed to just have some adventures.
This new film however is far more focused. It picks up about year after Michael’s wife has passed away and he is in danger of losing his house to the bank. Poppins isn’t necessarily there to improve the children, but instead is seeking to help Michael and Jane in their own personal lives through her care of the children.
Now the film still contains all the wacky adventures that you would want from a Mary Poppins film, which are beautifully realised by the special effects, whether it is a mystical underwater world, or the hand drawn land from a china bowl everything looks absolutely stunning. And the the adventures aren’t just random, each time teaches the children a lesson that allows them to help their family.
The two biggest aspects from the first film however are the lead performances and the music. And that is where Mary Poppins Returns was under huge pressure.
Thankfully both Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda were more than up to the challenge of living up to the legacy of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Blunt completely managed to embody the spirit of Andrews in the role, and proves to be an excellent singer as well. Miranda may not quite be able to live up the physical comedy of Van Dyke, but his singing is obviously excellent and also clears the very low bar of having a better cockney accent.
The music, like the film is very music in the spirit of the originals. They haven’t taken the approach of the most successful recent musicals, The Greatest Showman and A Star Is Born, who have just made catchy pop songs. Instead they are songs that have lessons to be learned, and fit with the film fantastically. And when you have someone like Miranda in the cast you know that the musical talent is certainly there.
Now the film definitely does require you to have seen the original to know what is going on. There a ton of references and nods to it. It is definitely playing into the nostalgia for the original film, and for a lot of people it may be too much. It also hits a lot of similar beats, but the additional narrative through line makes it more that just a redo.
In the end though what matters most with Mary Poppins Returns is that this is one of the most delightful cinema experiences of the year. I can sometime struggle with overly schmaltzy and saccharine storytelling. But Mary Poppins Returns has me grinning from ear to ear with its warmth and heart, that even I was fully able to go with it. This film is just a joy.