Mary Poppins Returns is Rob Marshall’s sequel to the classic Disney film, which reminds us to treasure the inner child in all of us. Emily Blunt, Ben Whishaw and Lin Manuel Miranda are sensational. The story is not as sensational. Now in theaters.
I feel it incumbent upon myself to proclaim that I have not seen the Walt Disney classic, Mary Poppins.
When it comes to its sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, I don’t feel like this is a necessarily bad thing. If anything, it allowed me to take a fresh approach to Rob Marshall’s (Chicago, Into the Woods) musical. The screenplay by David Magee (story by Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca, based on Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers) still focuses on the Banks family, but this time, the children, Michael (Ben Whishaw, Spectre) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) are the central characters.
Michael, who is widowed and has three children of his own, Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Michael is down on his luck as the bank is forced to start foreclosure proceedings on his home if he does not pay the full balance on the mortgage back.
When the children want to help their father try to save their house, he refuses, but they soldier on. The frustrations on the Banks’s brings Marry Poppins (Emily Blunt) back into their lives where she reminds us, through their adventures and, more importantly, their misadventures, what it’s like to have the innocent, childhood perspective on every day trials and tribulations.
That’s the key to the film. Marshall stages it in such a way that a mostly compelling narrative can live alongside the songs that our characters sing to carry their motivations along.
The opening number by Lin Manuel Miranda, who plays Jack, a lamplighter sets the stage for our adventure this time out with his “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky,” a spectacular number as he moves about the streets of 1935 London. We appreciate the fact that he is our guide for this film, taking us from scene to scene.
As we get deeper in to the film, Mary Poppins’s grace and ease is felt as she engages the children; first, when she arrives at the house, as the kids are trying to help Michael find an important document. The second as she and the kids visit the bank where Michael works, and the very same bank which holds the loan in question. This leads us to the evil William Wilkins, played by Colin Firth. The children know that he has nefarious plans, but their own father is too worried to see the situation for what it is.
Where the film truly sings is during the fight between the children over selling their mother’s antique china bowl, leading to a chip. Mary leads the children into the world of the cup. The hand drawn animation was a treat and an escape from the CGI that we see today.
The challenge with that sequence is that it foreshadows much of the latter half of the story to the point where I became disinterested. That is until, Mary takes them to visit her eccentric cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), a fun scene in which we are reminded that it is a good idea to change our perspective on things.
The rest of the film is fairly standard in its approach as the family must move out of their home. In a good reminder of my life, the third act starts out with an “eleventh hour” moment. It was a cute moment in which Michael finally realizes what Mary has been teaching the children throughout the story and then Michael wonders if he’s too late to change course.
Where Mary Poppins is involved, the inventive ways of seizing the moment soar. Marshall’s style is present as they race to save their home. What Marshall’s style cannot overcome is a generic villain. It’s not Mr. Firth’s performance, rather the way they defined the character.
That is because the film’s revelation is really about doing the right thing when Mr. Dawes (Dick Van Dyke), the President of the Bank returns. There’s a rather fun number which, for the sake of those who haven’t seen the film, ends the film on a high note. In the end, Rob Marshall does a credible job with the material he is given and the cast is first rate. In spite of this, the story doesn’t always work.
Mary Poppins Returns is a good reminder to us all to look to our inner child when trying to solve our own problems.
Now in theaters, Mary Poppins Returns is rated PG.