Mary Poppins Returns, 2018.
Directed by Rob Marshall.
Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Jeremy Swift, Jim Norton. Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Nathanael Saleh, Ian Conningham, and Dick Van Dyke.
Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.
Rarely has a modern film ever embraced past filmmaking techniques and style like Mary Poppins Returns, which comes equipped with nostalgia and callbacks but executes them in a grandiose manner that never once feels as if it’s trying too hard or under pressure to go bigger and bolder. The film is already an anomaly considering it’s a 50+ years later sequel (although the movie is set in the 1930s, only 20 or so years after the original) to a film that was nominated for Best Picture while taking home numerous other awards in the process (Julie Andrews won Best Actress for the eponymous role Emily Blunt is embodying here), naturally implicating high expectations that seemed impossible to deliver on, but Rob Marshall’s direction (who is no stranger to musicals having directed Chicago, and Into the Woods prior for Disney) and the writing trio of David Magee, John DeLuca, and Rob Marshall himself simply understand both the Mary Poppins stories from author P.L. Travers and the imaginative, cheery spirit of the wise and infectiously fun British nanny.
It’s only fitting that the first extravagant and stunningly choreographed musical number of Mary Poppins Returns is essentially an ode to imagination, seeing her magically turn a mundane night time bathtub session into a magical and whimsical adventure ride encountering anything and everything that comes to mind. Once this elaborate lengthy segment ended I would have assumed you were insane if you told me an even better song and dance scene was on the way, let alone one even longer. Utilizing hand-drawn animation for the first time in years (although, the frequency at which such a thing actually happens is more notable than simply citing the last time it was used), the characters enter the world of a China plate which is rendered in beautiful 2-D animation with creations that would not feel out of place of a classic cartoon. Yes, it can be argued that this riff is playing the same notes as the original film, but the 20-minute segment most importantly never feels the need to take advantage of modern-day technology for the hell of it. Of course, Rob Marshall had to fight Disney like hell over this creative decision, but the results are well worth whatever warring of words took place. If there is any higher power in this world Mary Poppins Returns, despite being a live-action film, will spark a rejuvenation for hand-drawn animation not just within Disney but the industry as an entity.
To be fair, the film does start off with a small number from lyricist and Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda playing Jack, a lamplighter serving the streets of London who doesn’t quite steal the show from Emily Blunt, but absolutely is a vital part to some of the film’s most impressive sequences; during the aforementioned live-action/hand-drawn animation blending, he is tasked with essentially singing a meaty story, which he delivers with hints of rap swagger and the idiosyncratic (and very British) charm of a classic Mary Poppins song. Towards the end he gets his own musical number complete with other street workers (Jack is supposed to be a friend of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert from the original), and by that point I had lost count of how many times the singing and dancing had blown my mind, but one thing is certain, both he and Emily Blunt deserve Oscar nominations for both their acting and singing performances. Trip a Little Light Fantastic is Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Something is seriously wrong with you if you’re not smiling by the time Dick Van Dyke makes a cameo appearance and does some singing and dancing of his own at 93 years old. Seriously, the part of your brain that enjoys fun and smiling and optimistic cheery music might be busted. Or maybe you are just the greedy end coldhearted bank operating villain played by Colin Firth, who is easy to despise even without much of a character; it’s all about the facial expressions and tics, along with his cruelness against those under his command.
With that said, admittedly there is not much to write home about regarding the plot; it pretty much covers the same ground as the first movie with the only difference being Mary Poppins is now looking after Michael’s (Ben Whishaw) children; the father is struggling financially and might lose the family legacy home. He and his returning sister Jane (also grown up and now played by Emily Mortimer) are also given the convoluted subplot that neither of them remembers the wonders and magic Mary Poppins is capable of, which works for the fact that Michael is disillusioned about his art and has apparently lost his childlike sense of fun and wonder, but is still a stretch nonetheless. It’s another retread which is disappointing as his sister is given different material to work with as a laborer and engaging hints at romance with Jack. The appearance from Meryl Streep as a quirky cousin to Mary Poppins also feels superfluous and unnecessary, both because it somewhat hurts the pacing of the film and makes for the weakest song of the bunch.
These are only small problems in the grand scheme of things; the costume design, visuals (once again the dreary and bleak situation of the real world is juxtaposed with fantasy scenes composed of vibrant primary colors), choreography, and acting are all superb. In some regards, Mary Poppins Returns does seem like a similar take on the same movie, but the execution is top-notch and will have you flying high and smiling wide. It’s likely not a coincidence that both films take place a few years prior to World War; Mary Poppins can raise our spirits, spread happiness, and remind audiences what’s most valuable even during the darkest of hours.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com