Practically Perfect in most ways!
The return of this magical nanny to our screens has filled the void of what has been one of the longest gaps between film sequels in cinematic history. Mary Poppins Returns is an energetic sequel which doesn’t try to usurp or compete with the original, very aware that the original is not a force to be reckoned with. Nonetheless, this film is equally as fun and inspiring as its prequel, and I, like most others, left the cinema with a smile on my face and the songs playing over in my head.
The film follows Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), now grown up with children of his own, struggling financially and emotionally after the loss of his wife. Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) appears majestically from the sky, arriving to help Michael and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) to save their dear house on Cherry Tree Lane. Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) accompanies Mary Poppins and the Banks children, Annabel, John and Georgie on their magical adventures, reminding them what it’s like to be children and use their imagination. From their adventures, the children enlighten their father as to what is really important, and with the help of Jack’s fellow lamplighters, they are able to ‘stop time’ and prove their shares in the bank, in order to save their precious house.
I’m a big fan of Emily Blunt, and although she did a good job of playing Mary Poppins, she did disappoint me in some respects. In the original, Julie Andrews portrays Mary Poppins as a strict, but kind-hearted figure, while Blunt’s portrayal comes across as a lot less kind and a lot more pretentious. Andrews was well-spoken, but not to the extent of sounding ostentatious, which I believe is the impression Blunt gives. In fairness, those were always going to be big shoes to fill.
The creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda has to be commended for his performance as Jack, the ‘Bert’ character of the film. An unbelievably talented man, he doesn’t fail to deliver in this film, portraying a very likeable and friendly character.
Meryl Streep and Julie Walters add humorous elements to the story; Streep playing Mary Poppins’ batty cousin Topsy, and Walters as the Banks’ housekeeper. Colin Firth plays the initially likeable Mr Wilkins, but soon becomes clear as the villain of the story. Dick Van Dyke makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the film – a wonderful reminder that the film is not trying to compete with the original.
The casting of Jane and Michael are spot on, in particular Ben Whishaw plays the perfect fatherly figure, lost without his wife to guide him and help with their children. Like the original, several of the songs have moral meanings, and the one which I especially like is ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’. The line which stuck in my head was, “Nothing’s gone forever, only out of place.” This could apply to anything, from losing a sock to losing a person, and is a lovely phrase which brought tears to my eyes. The children endearingly repeat the song to their father, which had such an emotional impact on me; so often children see things more simply than adults, and so often this is the best way of thinking.
Regarding the rest of the soundtrack, each song had a part to play in adding to the fun and energy of the film. Of course, nothing can beat the likes of ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ or ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. The ‘Step in Time’ equivalent: ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ didn’t initially stick in my head, but the choreography of the song was very reminiscent of ‘Step in Time’, which was the main appeal. The lamplighters dance around their lampposts, much like the chimney sweepers dancing precariously on the rooftops of London. There were several moments in the film where the original songs were playing subtly in the background, retaining the magic of the original Mary Poppins.
If you go into this film viewing it as an endearing continuation of the original, and not as a film trying to be better than its prequel, then it really is a very enjoyable spoonful of sugar.
~ Nicola Finch