The Bock’s Office: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ a perfectly practical sequel
"Mary Poppins Returns," rated PGRating: 3.5 out of 4 stars Running time: 130 minutes Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer
The idea of creating a follow-up to one of the greatest movie musicals in the history of cinema is, like a bad Cockney accent, a sound that is something quite atrocious. Even if you look at it as medicine you can’t avoid, “Mary Poppins Returns” is a spoonful of sugar in itself.
In 1935 London, 17 Cherry Tree Lane and its residents have seen happier times.
Newly widowed Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is barely keeping his home together, even with the help of sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), harried housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters), and his children Annabel, John and Georgie (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson), who have started growing up far too fast with the death of their mother.
To add to his concerns, financial mismanagement is catching up to him after a loan against the house comes due.
The adults’ preoccupation with preventing total ruin leads to the Banks kids coming home with some unexpected help, someone who knows them very well even though they have never laid eyes on her.
A mysterious woman named Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) comes from out of nowhere much to the delight of Michael and Jane, who immediately recognize their childhood nanny as well as the many stories of her magical talents that they have since convinced themselves were only figments of their shared imagination.
But, the new generation of Banks quickly learns that there’s more than meets the eye with this lady, who may be the only solution to all their problems.
There’s no outshining a name like Julie Andrews, but Blunt is spit-spot as she pays homage to one of the greats. She’s got the pipes to be sure, but it’s the mannerisms that make her performance work as the haughty, strict yet loving governess with a bag of tricks that has only gotten better with age since she last flew in via umbrella.
The aforementioned accent notwithstanding, there’s also no forgetting Dick Van Dyke, yet as a similar triple threat, “Hamilton” mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda provides a subtler vocal presence while hitting all the steps and songs as Jack — the one-time apprentice of Bert the chimney-sweep — keeping the lamps of London alight while also carrying a torch of his own, but not for whom you might think.
Whishaw and Mortimer do finely as the grown Michael and Jane, who despite being adults, still could use guidance from their old nanny.
Ahem, former nanny. Even when she’s apparently immortal, you don’t bring up a woman’s age.
Unlike his once cold-hearted father, Michael is in the banking business quite reluctantly, having to forego an art career to make ends meet, remaining sentimental about his progeny yet still largely oblivious about what they need from their remaining parent.
As for Jane, it’s a spinster’s life for her, balancing her duties as a sister and aunt with union-organizing amid the economic disaster known as The Great Slump and going against the times by — Gasp! — wearing pants. Her suffragette mother would be so proud.
Davies and Saleh do well as twins Annabel and John, who fancy themselves too level-headed and mature to need a caretaker, but newcomer Dawson is the true delight as unrestrained Georgie, who loves the new arrival more than anyone and not just because he was the one to reel her in from the sky on a kite.
The Disney crew doesn’t strain itself in terms of story, and with archetypes like a saintly deceased parent, a ticking clock with a family home at stake, you might think they’re getting lazy.
Still, those traits are only a bad thing when you don’t add more, and the level of care and craftsmanship to evoke the magic of 1964’s landmark blend of live-action and animation is hard to miss even with a sharper line this time around between the real world and flights of fancy, but thankfully the classic two-dimensional cartoon style makes a welcome return.
PL Travers may have had mixed feelings about Walt’s adjustments to her original literary character — the animosity of which was captured a few years ago in the half-hearted mea culpa “Saving Mr. Banks” — but it’s nearly impossible to imagine lovers of the first film not enjoying this latest work that has all the heart and whimsy you could want with director Rob Marshall at the helm and “special guest appearances” elsewhere.
You won’t hear the Sherman brothers’ “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” — though Mary’s thick-tongued cousin Topsy’s full name may have more syllables — or the Oscar-winning “Chim Chim Chir-ee,” but the soundtrack’s bright spots by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman start early with Jack’s opener “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” to the curiously cabaret-inspired “A Cover Is Not the Book” to the loud and proud anthem of the leeries, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.”
And, If you’re not bawling at least a little bit with Mary’s lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go” or soaring with “Nowhere to Go but Up,” you must be trying your darnedest to dislike everything new.
If you need “Mary Poppins Returns” to be better than its predecessor, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. It may not be practically perfect in every way, but it is perfectly practical as a true tribute that simultaneously stands on its own merits of bringing out the best of tried-and-true elements of family entertainment bearing the name Disney.
Perhaps it won’t be as admired as fondly in five decades, but let’s just see which way the wind blows…