Courtesy of Disney
Headlined by Emily Blunt in the titular role, Rob Marshall (“Into The Woods” and “Chicago”) returns to another fantasy epic that resembles exactly the type of film Walt Disney used to release in the glory days. Filled with soaring tunes, exceptional performances, and top-notch digital effects “Mary Poppins Returns” offers audiences a fresh and whimsical take on a character they either grew up with or are witnessing for the first time.
And how electric Blunt is. From her first moments on screen (when she gets whisked in via kite) it’s transparent that Marshall has casted the right actress for the gig. As with the 1964 original, Mary has been called upon to inject the true meaning of happiness and joy into the lives of the Banks family, who are struggling to pay off a bank loan which threatens to upend their childhood homestead. Micheal (Ben Whishaw) - now all grown up - is trying to make ends meet for his family, and the only salvation of not being evicted lies in locating valuable savings bonds Michael's father left for his family.
It’s not the gold standard in narrative storytelling, but David Magee manages to insert spurts of witty charged humor into his screenplay. Likewise for Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s updated catalogue of soon-to-be-played bops (it helps that Blunt and “Hamilton’s” own Lin Manuel-Miranda can sell even the weakest songs on the roster). Miranda, not particularly known for his singing capabilities, surprised me on several occasions, and he looks to be having a blast portraying the former-chimney-sweeper-now-turned-street-lamp-cleaner Jack. Like Dick Van-Dyke before him, Miranda bounds around with plentiful energy, especially when it counts in show-stoppers involving the entire cleaning crew helping the Banks clan find their way home. That musical interlude is as magical and spectacular as any I’ve seen all year, and serves up memories aplenty for those itching for some good ole’ fashion nostalgia.
Additionally, Marshall is wise to include the traditional 2D hand-drawn animation techniques utilized in the 1964 original. Combining that animation with live action was revolutionary upon the originals release, and today, quite honestly, it feels just as special. In this era of constant CGI and 3D animation, it feels as though we’ve forgotten what crisp 2D animation looked like. That animation projected on screen in bright, vibrant, colors all but makes up for the films tendency to introduce the children into perilous situations without any grounds for doing so, but getting to hear Colin Firth voice the diabolical wolf attempting to kidnap such children is probably the best consolation one could ask for.
Aside from animated wolves, Firth adds his human talents to the role of the snobbish bank manager trying to steal the Banks home for his own scheme; while the young tykes rounded out by Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson and Nathanael Saleh all shine on screen. Even Meryl Streep (does the women ever sleep?) makes sure to stop by for an extended cameo (and maybe a song or two), but it all revolves around Blunt; who in one scene can make you emotional, and then laugh on a dime, she’s as sweet and wholesome as a spoonful of sugar.
I can’t imagine the type of weighted pressure an actress might face performing this role in the shadow of the irreplaceable Julie Andrews, but it speaks volumes that Blunt is able to make the character seem magical decades later. She’s practically perfect in every-way, and punctuates an inventive musical that procures a timeless story that can teach a thing or two to audiences about kindness, family, and love. Watch “Mary Poppins Returns” with a large cup of hot cocoa and immerse yourself in the world author PL Travers has created. Resistance is futile.