I didn’t grow up watching the original Mary Poppins. The legendary Disney film was left out of my viewing collection until this year as I prepared for the new film featuring the perfect nanny. The movie is practically perfect in every way, just like Mary Poppins. How could Disney live up to the legacy that Julie Andrews set as she drifted down from London skies and into Disney legend? More than half a century later, remake-happy Hollywood touched on the legacy and built upon it with Mary Poppins Returns.
(This review is Spoiler-Free)
In 1935 London, twenty-five years after the events of the original film, the now-adult Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw) come together after a family tragedy. In danger of losing their family home, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to take care of Michael’s three small children: Anabel (Pixie Davies), Georgie (Joel Dawson), and John (Nathaneal Saleh).
Lin-Manuel Miranda opens the movie with a wonderful song, now playing the Cockney chimney sweep. There is no better way to start a musical than with Miranda’s singing. If you have him on your cast list, let that man sing! Miranda brings a certain cheeriness among the bleak, grey London skies that dominates the majority of the movie, providing an allegory to the state of the Banks family. Once Blunt comes down from the skies with holding onto the kids’ kite, the magic really begins.
Blunt’s spectacular charm as Mary Poppins. She certainly displays firmness of her character’s personality, curt conceit that I chuckled at. There is also the shade of cool serenity with a glimmer of mischief lurking underneath her hat. The pairing of her and Miranda is absolute musical magic. Colin Firth makes a fine-enough villain as Mr. Wilkins, and it’s impossible not to smile when Dick Van Dyke makes an appearance (especially in a dancing number). One spoiler that I will let drop here: he isn’t the only brief guest appearance in the film.
Director Rob Marshall (Into the Woods, Chicago) is no stranger to musical movies and clearly understands the legacy he’s taken on. He fills nearly every corner of the screen with song and dance and tweedy playfulness – even a featured sequence done entirely in the flat ’60s-style animation that was used in the original. This was quite the homage. The storytelling does feel a little lanky but I believe it works in the film’s favor; musicals don’t need to be overthought or have a complex plot. Simple is sometimes better (Can you imagine that?) This movie earned his high ratings from critics and lands as one of the best films of the year with Blunt’s performance, the musical number, and sense of nostalgia leading the way. Spoonfuls of sugar and color always help the movie magic go down and this magic fills your heart up by the time the end credits roll.
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