“Mary Poppins Returns” won’t replace the original 1964 “Mary Poppins,” but it does ask for a corner in the carpet bag of your heart as a glowing homage to the Julie Andrews-Dick Van Dyke pairing and the music by Sherman Brothers. Director Rob Marshall provides us with plenty of Easter eggs, nods and winks to the original and a lot of love and a bit of updating.
Set 25 years after the 1965 movie, “Mary Poppins Returns” begins with a song that appears to be ironic, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky.” Sung by lamplighter, Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), the song is optimistic, but what we see is gloomy–pollution and poverty. The year is 1935, during the Great Depression. When we end up at the more upscale neighborhood of Cherry Tree Lane, gloom is inside. The children of the original film, Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw), have grown up. Michael is fogged in by grief (“A Conversation”) after the death of his wife, forcing his two children, Annabel (Pixie Davies), Georgie (Joel Dawson) and John (Nathanael Saleh), to take some responsibilities–particularly as their faithful housekeeper, Ellen (Julie Waters), has become feeble-minded with age. Yet there’s something kids can’t do–pay the bills.
The bank, the very bank of the Banks, Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, is foreclosing on the home of the Banks. Somewhere in the house, Michael and Jane must find the stocks that their father bought long ago. The bank should have had a record, but we learn that despite his kind words, the president of the bank, William “Weatherall” Wilkins (Colin Firth), has evil machinations.
During their search, Jane and Michael remember Mary Poppins and toss out the kite they flew during their adventures with her. Georgie mends it and in the park, a great gust of wind almost takes Georgie away despite Jack’s efforts. Mary Poppins arrives with the kite in hand and a knowing smile.
On our journey to justice, because you just know that Wilkins will get his due and that Mary Poppins will save the day. The beauty is in how it will happen and the characters we will meet along the way. The neighbors across the street–Admiral Boom (David Warner) and his shipmate, still mark the time with a canon, and there’s a sly tie-in at the end.
Mary Poppins takes the children on a magical bathtub journey, an escape into a Wedgwood bowl with a bit of music hall song and dance, featuring the penguins (“The Royal Doulton Music Hall,” “Introducing Mary Poppins” and “A Cover Is Not the Books”), a trip to a topsy-turvy world of her cousin, Topsy (a deliciously dotty Meryl Streep for the musical number “Turning Turtle”) and a walk through the darkened streets where the lamplighters guide them with a little philosophy accompanied by a lot of fantastic dancing (“Trip a Little Light Fantastic”) and finally we’ll get a chance to see the only returning original cast member, Dick Van Dyke, do a little dance.
David Magee’s screenplay (story by Magee, Marshall and John DeLuca) takes us on a lovely journey and Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins is likely the loveliest witch you’ll ever meet. She’s magical, assured and just a touch vain, practically perfect in every way. This time, the romance isn’t between Mary Poppins and the lead male singer. Jack has his eyes on Jane, whom he’s noticed since they were little kids.
“Mary Poppins Returns” opens on 19 December 2018.