Disney has fallen into the habit, of late, of remaking their most beloved output. In 2015 we had Cinderella. In 2016 we had The Jungle Book. In 2017 we had Beauty & The Beast. Next year we’ve got Aladdin, Dumbo and The Lion King. This year we don’t have a remake, but a sequel, of sorts, as Mary Poppins Returns.
Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to the Banks family in their hour of need, during ‘The Great Slump’. Things are not looking good for the now grown-up Michael (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer). Michael’s three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Banks) were forced to grow-up quickly in the year since their mother passed away. Michael is struggling as both a widower and a father. Luckily Mary Poppins is on her way. Once more not fixing the problem, but helping fix them so they can fix the problem for themselves.
When the film was first announced, the news that Mary Poppins would be returning 54 years after she first appeared on screens was met with disdain. The ‘blow’ was somewhat lessened by the fact it was announced that Emily Blunt would be playing her. Most were agreed that this was the best possible casting for the film nobody had asked for.
And, as with Mary Poppins herself, they knew what we needed before we knew it ourselves. This film, like last year’s Paddington 2, is the film the world doesn’t deserve right now, but, is one that it surely needs. For 2 hours 10 mins we get to escape from this world that, with each passing day, seems a little scarier, a fair bit angrier and a lot less permanent. It would not be hyperbolic for me to confess at this point that I left the screen with a face that ached from smiling and a body that felt dehydrated from all the sobbing that had occured. This is simultaneously movie magic and movie medicine, that doesn’t need a spoonful of sugar to go down.
Such is the extent of the unrelenting, beatific charm of the whole affair. The film’s beginning and end is bookmarked by Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) serenading us about the ‘Lovely London Sky’. The lyrics, sung with longing and accompanied by some beautiful visuals, will do wonders for tourism. We’re quickly back in the bosom of the Banks household. Even though decades have passed, less for them than us, it feels like we’ve never been away. Seamlessly we enter the latest, and rather turbulent chapter of their lives, with the comfortable familiarity of old friends. It’s because of this bond, and the ease with which it was reestablished, that we are so affected by the pain they are going through as a family.
That’s also why Mary’s return is so ruddy joyous. Blunt manages to both pay tribute to her predecessor whilst also making the role her own. Julie Andrews’ performance was incomparable. Instead Blunt means to compliment it, which she does so oh-so-dashingly. Her expressions delight with deadpan, her eyes sparkle with intent and every movement wonderfully controlled. For those of us who hold the 1964 Mary in our hearts, Blunt does her justice and then some. For the younger generations, those who may not have seen the earlier film, they are being gifted with a fabulous first Mary.
Manuel-Miranda is excellent support. He’s soldily good for the first half, until his verse in ‘A Cover Is Not the Book’ which elevates his performance to great. It’s Hamilton-esque, what is best known for, and it lets us breathe a little easier – that is why he’s here! That song is one of the film’s most beautiful sequences and one of the most memorable songs. Saying that, whilst watching I felt as if the soundtrack was good but not as good as the original. Hours later and I’ve had a running cycle of the film’s various numbers that have taken up residence in my frontal lobe. ‘Can you Imagine That?’ is simply beautiful, ‘Trip A Little Light Fantastic’ is superlative and I’m yet to think of ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ without tearing up.
Perhaps that’s the true indicator of a film’s greatness. Coming out of it straight away thinking ‘I loved it!’ is all-well and good (which I did). But finding your love for it growing the more you think of it – that’s true move magic.
Mary Poppins Returns is in UK cinemas from Friday 21st December.