A new earnest musical fantasy from the maker of Chicago and Into The Woods follows its celebrated 1964 predecessor in Depression-era London (three decades hence) and has a melancholic lilt to it for a while, anyway.
Mary Poppins Returns may not have the same jauntiness and memorable melodies (and tunes), but an amazing vastness of purity and nostalgia accompanies many of its sequences and set-pieces with some magical designs from John Myhre.
Rob Marshall’s not too long version has Michael and Jane Banks (Ben Whishaw of Paddington and Emily Mortimer of The Bookshop) beset adults, with the former having three youngsters played by Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson, and Nathanael Saleh. Jane is caring for them since it’s been a year since mum passed on. The bank’s unfriendly Mr. Wilkins (Colin Firth) puts the family at risk of losing their longtime home on Cherry Tree Lane.
Of course, a welcome eastbound breeze and rustling leaves with a woman with an umbrella silhouette that is the eponymous flying nanny (without aging) back to save the Banks, when not dispensing a little instruction and playing games. Emily Blunt (of Marshall’s aforementioned Woods, also A Quiet Place and Edge of Tomorrow) obviously isn’t about to fill the iconic, supremely benevolent shoes of Julie Andrews (also from The Sound of Music to The Princess Diaries, not to mention Shrek 2). But, the high spirits are filled with rigid pithiness that prompts many off-beat one-liners that add more humor to the mix.
With her special tote, Mary will scurry Anabel, Georgie, and John off to animated ballrooms and figure in an ebullient number “Trip The Light Fantastic.” Whishaw’s effective Michael will appeal to more seasoned cineastes in a dilemma concerning a lost certificate. Lin-Manuel Miranda (of ‘Hamilton’ fame and in his first substantial film role) offers much enthusiasm and does well with a tricky Cockney accent as Mary’s lamplighter sidekick, who essentially replaces the former chimney sweep, Bert. He really gets amped up when cartoon creatures appear.
The filmmaking doesn’t exude the same canniness and enchantment of Robert Stevenson’s original, but another icon in Meryl Streep has her moments as a compass-less Topsy, especially in arguably the most notable selection, “Turning Turtle.” And, it’s great to see Angela Lansbury sing again on screen (the last time was 1997’s Anastasia), not to mention another 93-year-old (Bert himself), Dick Van Dyke, in a much welcome cameo.
Here’s a homecoming which is light-hearted, wistful, action-filled, and finally (to some degree) appropriately cloying. One with Blunt (obviously giving Mary plenty of pop and time to enjoy herself) leading the way (thanks to more stellar costuming from Sandy Powell) to offer much merriment for families (with children unfamiliar with Julie Andrews) this holiday season.