Mary Poppins Returns (U)
More than half a century has passed since the release of Disney’s Mary Poppins, a musical so beloved that even the making of it was the subject of a hit movie, 2013’s Saving Mr Banks.
Mary Poppins Returns is not a remake – the very idea of that is something quite atrocious – but a sequel, based like the 1964 classic on the books of PL Travers.
Nonetheless, does it rekindle the abundant sparkle and magic of the original? Only in fits and starts.
There are no musical numbers likely to endure in the public affection for decades, as so many have since 1964.
If you do leave the cinema with a song in your heart, stepping in time, it will likely be on account of nonagenarians Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury, who both pop up near the end, the definition of splendid old troupers.
Emily Blunt is pictured in Mary Poppins Returns – a sequel to the 1964 classic about everyone’s favourite nanny
Mary Poppins Returns isn’t perfect, but see it, all the same, to cherish the sumptuous production values, and also for twinkly old Van Dyke’s (pictured in the original 1964 film left and 2018 one right) joyful contribution, a cinematic spoonful of sugar if ever there was one
The title role, once so gloriously inhabited by Julie Andrews, belongs to Emily Blunt. I wish I could say she was practically perfect in every way. She looks the part, she’s a terrific actress, she sings nicely (though she’s no Andrews).
But for some reason, perhaps in trying to replicate that famously precise Andrews enunciation, Blunt speaks as plummily as a dowager duchess. As an American, director Rob Marshall possibly didn’t notice. But it’s a maddening distraction. Or, as she would have it, a ‘meddening distrection’.
The film picks up the story of siblings Jane and Michael Banks in adulthood. We are no longer in Edwardian London, but, a caption tells us, in the days of ‘The Great Slump’.
Like her late suffragette mother, Jane (Emily Mortimer) is a political activist, a so-called ‘labour organiser’. But she remains unmarried, helping Michael (Ben Whishaw), a mild-mannered widower, look after his three children.
Mary Poppins Returns is not a remake – the very idea of that is something quite atrocious – but a sequel
Does the sequel rekindle the abundant sparkle and magic of the original? Only in fits and starts
He is in hock to the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank and trying to hang on to the family home in Cherry Tree Lane. He works part-time at the bank as a teller. Alas, this cuts no ice with Fidelity Fiduciary’s slimy chairman (Colin Firth).
Enter fiction’s ultimate super-nanny, Mary Poppins, floating down from the ‘luvverly London sky’ clutching her umbrella and carpet bag.
Her job is to help Mr Banks find the missing share certificate that will establish his solvency and save the house, and to supervise his children following the death of their mother.
That’s more or less it, with regular interventions from Jack the lamplighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda), this film’s version of Bert the chimney sweep.
Mary Poppins Returns contains rousing delights and wincing misjudgments in about equal measure. It begins charmingly, with Jack chirpily doing his rounds, trilling about that luvverly London sky.
His opening number gives way to a rousing, old-fashioned credits sequence that evokes big-screen musicals as they used to be.
The entrances of Van Dyke and Lansbury – combined age 185 – are truly worth waiting for.
A couple of the fantasy scenes are memorable, the children are very good (especially Joel Dawson as Georgie, the smallest), and there is a wonderfully choreographed climax by Big Ben.
But if you adore the original, this is a hard film to love. It is derivative and the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman do not really lodge in the mind. And then there are Blunt’s annoying cut-glass vowels, more Queen Mary than Mary Poppins.
But see it, all the same, to cherish the sumptuous production values, and also for twinkly old Van Dyke’s joyful contribution, a cinematic spoonful of sugar if ever there was one.
Mary Poppins Returns opens across the UK on Friday December 21.
Emily Blunt looks the part, she’s a terrific actress, she sings nicely but is no Julie Andrews