Well, here it is folks. My most anticipated film of the year, and the film that I was most afraid of! If you don’t already know, it’s no secret that Mary Poppins is one of my favourite movies of all time, perhaps even my very favourite. From the moment this sequel was announced, my thoughts would jump from dread to excitement and then back again, but with each new casting update and with the help of a genuinely brilliant set of trailers, I went in to Mary Poppins Returns with something resembling positivity and hope. Could it come even close to capturing the magic and emotion of its preceding masterpiece?
Given the life or death stakes that I spent the best part of a year building up for myself, it is weird, then, to reveal that whilst Mary Poppins Returns didn’t completely blow me away, I feel strangely at peace with what it did do. Every now and then a film comes along that forces me to split my opinion between my fan brain and my film critic brain, and its fair to say that this is one of the biggest recent examples of that.
The film takes place twenty five years after the events of the original, when magical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to Cherry Tree Lane to come to the aid of the Banks family as Michael (Ben Whishaw), recently widowed, struggles along with his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) to keep hold of their beloved childhood home. In the picture now are not only Jane and Michael, but the next generation of Banks children, John (Nathanael Saleh), Annabel (Pixie Davies) and Georgie (Joel Dawson), not to mention Frank (Lin-Manuel Miranda), the cheeky, cheery London lamplighter.
With old and new characters in place, the film takes the audience on a very familiar feeling journey of magical fun and frolic, stunning set piece after stunning set piece with a host of fantastic songs to add to the Disney hall of fame, and whilst Mary Poppins Returns is a thoroughly good time, it’s fair to note that its biggest flaw is perhaps its commitment to staying a little too true to the original formula. As the narrative progresses, you can almost match the film with the 1964 version beat by beat, with a similarly themed accompanying song to boot. Don’t get me wrong, many of the larger numbers are some of the most fun I have had in the cinema all year, but did we really wait half a century to watch pretty much the same thing again, sprinkled with a smidge less star dust?
Having said that, there are moments and passages of Mary Poppins Returns that are truly worthy of the iconic name. I am well aware that I have had more than twenty five years of growing love and nostalgia for the original, but I can’t imagine there is anyone in the world who would say that this 2018 sequel is better. The thing is, though, it doesn’t have to be, and it was never going to be. So let’s just all enjoy it for what it is, shall we? A brilliant ray of cinematic sunshine in a time that feels ever so cloudy and grey.
Massive props to Emily Blunt for achieving the impossible, being an actress, not named Julie Andrews, who gives the world a genuinely brilliant Mary Poppins. The film is at its best every second that Blunt is on the screen, she gives us a slightly sassier, funnier, cheekier Poppins than we have seen before, succeeding in making the part her own without ever besmirching the legend of the character or taking it too far away from its roots. She might not possess the inimitable songbird quality of Dame Julie, but her musical performances don’t you leave wanting for a single second. So much has been said about Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born this year, but for me, Emily Blunt is the musical star of 2018.
Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer are eerily perfect as adult Michael and Jane Banks, with Mortimer in particular making an impact despite taking more of a backseat plot wise. The three child actors in the centre of the action are all great, little Joel Dawson being offensively cute as youngest son Georgie. As Jack, Lin-Manuel Miranda evokes a knowing air of Bert the chimney sweep with a suspect but fitting cockney accent! One can never hope to follow in the footsteps of the great Dick Van Dyke, but Miranda brings his own charismatic brand of charm to proceedings.
Cameos from the likes of Angela Lansbury and the aforementioned Dick Van Dyke are sure to make your heart swell, along with more subtle nods for life long fans like a brief appearance from Karen Dotrice, the original Jane Banks. From Colin Firth, to Julie Walters to an upcoming promising actress called Meryl Streep, the cast is dripping with star quality and talent. A franchise this precious couldn’t be in safer hands.
Overall, Mary Poppins Returns might not feature A Spoonful Of Sugar, but it certainly succeeds in feeling like one at times. There’s no denying that some sequences, some scenes, some songs are stronger than others, not every single narrative detail feels like a home run, but when the picture as a whole is operating on such an intensely joyful level, even the less successful moments still feel special. This film was always going to have a strong bias working against it (on my part, anyway), but in another thirty years time, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see adults, the same age as I am now, holding the same feelings for Mary Poppins Returns as I do about Mary Poppins. Not quite ‘practically perfect in every way’, but definitely a Jolly Holiday!