The Movie Guru: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda fun in ‘Mary Poppins Reutrns’
Mary Poppins Returns
Rated: PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action.
Screenplay by: David Magee.
Screen story by: David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca.
Based on the stories by: P.L. Travers.
Directed by: Rob Marshall.
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth and more.
Grade: Three and a half stars.
Whether or not you love “Mary Poppins Returns” will depend a lot on how you feel about the original.
The movie is such a loving continuation of its Oscar-winning predecessor that it’s almost impossible to separate the two. It matches the feel of the earlier movie almost exactly, finding a plot that matches the spirit of the original without feeling like a retread. The musical numbers hew even more closely to their predecessors, evoking the originals so strongly that even the most casual fans can pick out exactly which song each new number is honoring. If you enjoyed the original, you’ll definitely enjoy the return trip.
The movie is set during a time of financial difficulty for England, and the Banks children are suffering a world of trouble. Grown Michael Bank’s wife has recently died after an illness, and though Jane is helping out with the children, the family is about to lose the house Jane and Michael grew up in. Michael is also struggling emotionally, and the two older children have had to grow up too fast. Can Mary Poppins return and help sort everything out for all the Banks children, young and old alike?
The script is an excellent continuation of the original story, following a similar structure while remaining faithful to the growth everyone achieved in the first film. Too many sequels make the characters forget their development for the sake of plot convenience, but this movie drops everyone into a new situation. In some ways it makes this movie even deeper than the original, leaving the characters to wrestle with weightier issues on the way to peace of mind.
There’s also plenty of imagination to be seen. Though an underwater sequence early on feels ever-so-slightly out of sync with the rest of the film’s aesthetic, a sequence inside a ceramic bowl is a definite visual treat. The classic animation is a delight after years of CGI, and the use of subtle audio and visual details never let the audience forget that all of the action is happening inside ceramic.
Emily Blunt is an excellent Mary Poppins, though she makes the character her own rather than trying to copy Julie Andrews. Lin-Manuel Miranda is even more of a charmer, his Jack character as much of a delight as Dick Van Dyke’s Burt while still being markedly different. Ben Wishaw is more quietly excellent as Michael Banks, a loving, imaginative man struggling with almost overwhelming odds. Julie Walters is quite a bit of fun as Ellen, the family’s maid.
My mother, who was a child when the original movie came out, cried at Dick Van Dyke’s brief, delightful appearance. Though I myself didn’t cry, I’m happy to confess it was one of my favorite parts of the movie.
At times, however, I can’t help but wonder if the movie puts too much effort into feeling like the original. It works so hard to remind us of the first “Mary Poppins” at every turn, but what could it have become with a little more freedom?
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.