Mary Poppins Returns, this year’s December offering from Disney, is a welcome gift for Disneyphiles, musical fans, and magic lovers alike. When this was first announced a couple of years ago, I was skeptical. The original Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks are two of my favorite live action films from Disney, and I was hoping this would be a worthy follow up. I am happy to report that no one should be worried. As soon as the opening credits began, I knew I was in good hands. From the sweeping score, to the beautiful cinematography, the classic Disney magic is back.
Mary Poppins Returns follows the story of the Banks children (now adults) 25 years after the events of the first film. Though they think fondly of their childhood nanny Mary Poppins, they have forgotten about the magical and impossible things they did with her as children. Michael Banks, recently widowed, has three children of his own and is struggling to pay the bills. This is the perfect opportunity for Mary Poppins to come in and save the day.
One of the most delightful aspects of the movie is the cast. Everyone is in top form here, from Emily Blunt as the practically perfect nanny to Broadway favorite Lin-Manuel Miranda in the role of Jack, a Bert-like character. Blunt does not copy Julie Andrews, but offers her own take in the role, and does it well. Stage performer and writer Lin Manuel-Miranda takes on his first major film role and he doesn’t disappoint either, carrying on the tradition of an American actor in the role of Mary Poppins’s Cockney sidekick. The three children are also stand outs as are Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as adult Michael and Jane Banks, respectively. All the supporting roles get moments to shine, particularly in the musical numbers. Many of the beloved characters are back including Ellen the maid, played by Julie Walters and Admiral Boom, played by David Warner. Both of these fine actors were great choices in filling the shoes of these characters from the original film. Cameo appearances include Meryl Streep as Cousin Topsy, Dick Van Dyke as Dawes Jr., and Angela Lansbury as the Balloon Lady, all of which get opportunities to sing.
However, apart from the performances, my favorite aspects were the music and the animation. Marc Shaiman has created a score that is a natural continuation of the beloved music of the Sherman Brothers. It is reminiscent of the music from the original film, both in style and orchestration. Several songs offer a parallel function to the songs in the original including the new “Can You Imagine That?” as a nursery song in the spirit of “A Spoonful of Sugar” as well as “Nowhere to Go But Up” taking the place of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”. In fact, I would say that the film is to the original Mary Poppins what Star Wars: The Force Awakens was to the original Star Wars, in that it is a sequel and yet follows the same story beats. This is in no way a bad thing, but only enhances the experience.
In terms of the animation, I cannot say enough good things about it. The whole sequence is expertly animated and looks gorgeous. The artists over at Duncan Studio should all be extremely proud of the work they have done on this film. What a joy it is to see hand drawn animation on the big screen again!
Mary Poppins Returns is one of those films that you think about long after you leave the theater. It is refreshing to know that this kind of movie is still being made in 2018, when it often seems that the uplifting movie magic of the past has disappeared. Disney has not let that happen however, and so I encourage all to go and see this film when it hits theaters December 19, 2018.