Mary Poppins Returns, 2018.
Directed by Rob Marshall.
Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep, and Colin Firth.
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.
From the nanosecond Her Divine Majesty Emily Blunt floats down from parted clouds like a sophisticated British angel, Mary Poppins Returns is the starlet’s showcase. She’s delightful, fascinatingly enigmatic, and fit for wonderland praise. The rest of Rob Marshall’s singalong? Met with descriptors like “nice enough” and “takes its time” and “*glances at watch yet again*” for much of the two-plus hours you’ll be planted in theater seats (or on couch cushions or WHEREVER kids watch movies these days). Marshall’s work on Chicago and Into The Woods ensures Mary Poppins Returns tip-taps around majestic musical realms, but entertainment is incomparably airless next to Blunt’s scene-stealing gravitas. Here’s hoping your youngins can hold attention for 130 minutes – quite the ask, and not a simple one.
Poppins 2.0 is politely overstuffed like tearing open a bag of crisps only to find there’s more airy filler than expected. The flavor still tickles your taste buds, but quantitative letdowns dull the experience.
Decades after Michael and Jane Banks experience their own Mary Poppins adventure, the bewitched nanny returns to Michael’s (Ben Whishaw) home. His wife Kate has sadly passed, his three children – Jon (Nathanael Saleh), Anabel (Pixie Davies), and Georgie (Joel Dawson) – are without guidance, and their childhood abode is in danger of repossession if Michael’s bank loan can’t be paid off in five days. Sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) aids where she can, but to stave off William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) and his greedy associates, they’ll need certified proof of Papa Banks’ shareholder investment – but who will watch Michael’s children?
Enter Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), her magical bag of tricks, and Lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda).
Blunt’s postured wit and reverse psychology sass should not be undersold. She’s impossibly charming in the title role, from wink-and-nudge dialogue to her stone-faced reactions when presented with whimsical fairy tale notes. Lines are delivered so level-headed in a way that is pure joy; intelligence, imagination, and personality all rolled into one. “Are you sure this is safe,” a Banks child asks. “Of course not, now off we go,” exclaims Mary with her signature coyness without batting an eye (entering artwork, diving into a bathtub, etc.). Blunt is not Julie Andrews, and that’s just fine – she’s a new Mary Poppins for a new generation.
Marshall returns to Cherry Tree Lane in the 1930s with ample curiosity intact. One song dunks us under the sea, scrubbing the adolescent Banks hooligans with dolphin-whipped bubbles and coral sponges. Another transports Poppins’ crew into a porcelain China bowl illustration, leading to a hand-drawn circus adventure (striking cartoon/real-life hybridization). Most fun of all is a visit to Topsy (Meryl Streep) and her fix-it shop, where every second Wednesday Topsy’s world turns upside down. Cue a thick Eastern European accented Streep flipping on her head and selling the absolute hell out of campy theatrical extravagance. Even details like neighbor Admiral Boom’s (David Warner) half house/half naval ship add a hint of fascination. Robust world inflating is never an issue.
On the downside, musical interludes tend to drag (acknowledging Mary Poppins runs ten minutes longer). Lin-Manuel Miranda does his Hamilton “thing” when spitting hip-hoppy lyrics on stage with penguins, but “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” – Jack and his Lamplighter gang’s song that guides Poppins and the Banks’ home – takes its sweet, precious time. There’s singing, dancing – someone convinces Mary to join the commotion – an X-games BMX trick showcase breaks out. No, seriously. Choreographed numbers carry on a verse or chorus too far (except Topsy-Turvey’s perspective flip) and come without segue or introduction. Songs are staged inside signature realms – Poppins’ transformation of gloom into pure amusement – but dare I say overstay welcomes?
Come Oscar season, we should be hearing Mary Poppins Returns nominated for best costume design. Not restricted to Mary’s blueberry-colored jacket and red cap nor Jack’s street worker simplicity. When splashing and singing, the gang all flip to period-perfect ruffled nautical swimsuits. As visitors to the China bowl’s tapestry, their clothing reflects watercolor brushstrokes that appear impossibly uncomfortable but strikingly thematic against doodled backgrounds. Even something as simple as fairground attire covered in cotton-candy-pink pinstripes and straw hats like a Partridge Family barbershop quartet highlights the magnificent costume work overseen by Sandy Powell.
Mary Poppins Returns is an expectedly sugar-sweet reclamation of childhood that asks all to be good and breathe in life’s beauty once in a while. Ballads spread messages of making the mundane extraordinary, accepting maturity, viewing glasses as half full, and more family-friendly values. Emily Blunt’s portrayal of Poppins attempts to bind everything together, but Marshall’s vision treads murky “expected” and “redundant” waters. You’re here for the Poppins, and thus you shall be treated. Unfortunately, the whole production is a bit flat-footed and two steps behind.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).