By Bradley Lane
As a preface to this review, I would like to get something out of the way, I believe that there is absolutely no reason for this film to exist. The original Mary Poppins released in 1964 stands on its own merits as a classic of American cinema. By releasing a sequel to that film in 2019 it indicates one of two things: that Disney feels like Mary Poppins is thematically incomplete and requires another film to fully tell the story of Mary Poppins and the Banks children or Mary Poppins is yet another franchise to reboot, remake, or rebrand to make more money through name recognition. Whatever the case may be, Mary Poppins Returns is much better than it has any right to be.
Mary Poppins Returns takes place 25 years after the events of the original film during the Great Depression in London as the original Banks children, Michael and Jane, fight to save their childhood home from the very same bank in which their father worked. All the while trying to cope with the untimely death of Michael Banks’ wife, the mother of the three Banks children, this film follows Annabel, John and Georgie. It is in these dire straits that Mary Poppins once again appears to help the Banks children. Similarly to the first film, each member of the Banks family has a particular lesson to learn from Poppins as the film unfolds, however directly or indirectly this lesson is communicated to them.
Emily Blunt steals the show as the ever witty, charming and stern Mary Poppins. There is no replacement to Julie Andrews’ performance as the character, but this is about as close as you can get without completely ripping it off. Her costar Lin Manuel Miranda is also clearly paying homage to Dick Van Dyke’s performance as Bert the dancing chimney sweep, as Miranda plays Jack, a dancing street lamp lighter. He plays his part with sincerity and overwhelming charm, though his English accent was dodgy at best.
The director, Rob Marshall, is a seasoned dance choreographer, which shines through brilliantly in the many musical numbers throughout Mary Poppins Returns. Many of his larger dances he likes to keep fully in frame, showcasing the excellent dancing from each cast member, giving these sequences an “Old Hollywood” type feel, once again paying respects to the original film.
Mary Poppins Returns also smartly separates itself from the litany of subpar family/children’s movies being produced today by never stooping to their level. Never once is dumb humor put in place of story, smart jokes, or timely lessons for kids and adults both. It clearly respects the original material and smartly builds upon the themes of the original by updating them for a 21st century audience despite living in the shadow of a much better film.
Mary Poppins should never have gotten a sequel, but it did, and it is as good as it possibly could have been.