Mary Poppins Returns: Pure feel-good magic
Ivan Radford | On 22, Apr 2019
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw
Watch Mary Poppins Returns online in the UK: Disney+ / Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Rebooting Mary Poppins is an impossible task, not least because nobody could ever replace Julie Andrews as the seminal nanny. Mary Poppins Returns is an inspired piece of cinema precisely because it doesn’t ever try. A semi-sequel that keeps its roots firmly in the past, it updates the premise without entering the modern day, rethinks its hero without losing her essence, and makes you laugh and cry in equal measure. It’s in that medley of halfway houses that the movie finds its enchanting, infectious appeal.
The film picks up 24 years after the events of the original, with Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw) Banks now grown up, and Michael raising children of his own. A year after the loss of his wife and their mother, though, he finds himself struggling to keep things together, just as the bank threatens to repossess the family house. Enter Mary, but not quite the Mary we – and the Banks family – knew.
Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way, inhabiting the character with a recognisably prim and proper attitude. But Poppins 2.0 brings a whole new side to the nanny that makes it all Blunt’s own, from a blunter, more withering edge that doesn’t tolerate fools to the faintest trace of arrogance, as she lets her hair down for an almost-racy delivery of a staged musical number. That set piece sees her joined by Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack, a lamplighter and former apprentice of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert. He manages the same mix of homage and originality, juggling his own unique knack for fast-paced lyrics with a knowingly wonky cockney accent.
Between them, Ben Whishaw is heartbreakingly good as Michael, an artist who can still appreciate creative hijinks but is weighed down by the burdens of the adult world. His journey towards remembering the joy of childish fun becomes a natural continuation of the Mary Poppins legacy; in the original, she was a helper for the parents, not the kids, and her return retains that same, central philosophy. “Nothing’s gone forever only out of place,” she teaches not just young Annabel (Pixie Davies) and Georgie (Joel Dawson), but Michael too, and that gentle, sensitive exploration of grief emerges as a deceptively profound theme that sneaks up on your heartstrings and gives them a tearful tug.
And yet, despite that hugely emotional undercurrent, the film still finds time to blend live action and hand-drawn animation, and merge bath time with extravagant ocean adventures. Director Rob Marshall and his team ensure that every frame is brimming with imagination and energy, from fog-covered London to the expert choreography of the lamplighters lighting the way. The gorgeous visuals are accompanied beautifully by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman’s songs – most memorable of all being Jack’s Trip a Little Light Fantastic and Lovely London Skies, as well as Mary’s A Cover Is Not the Book and The Place Where Lost Things Go. Nodding to familiar Poppins tracks in style and subject, they reinforce the movie’s careful combination of nostalgia and forward-thinking. Add in the story’s 1930s setting and the whole endeavour ends up with a timeless appeal that sits comfortably alongside the 1964 movie – with the only misstep being a section involving Meryl Streep that fortunately doesn’t go on for too long. By the time it all whirls together with some enjoyable cameos and a bit with a kite, you’ll be strolling off afterwards filled with gravity-defying optimism. Why have a spoonful of sugar when you can have whole bowl full? Pure feel-good magic for any age.
Mary Poppins Returns is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription. It is also available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of an £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.