1964’s original Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke is such family favourite and iconic cast that it was always going to be an interesting challenge reviewing Mary Poppins Returns as a stand alone film.
The Banks children George and Emily (adults now) are in trouble again. It’s the Great Depression and George has fallen behind in his payments after he took out a loan on their childhood home, and now the bank (where their father and now George works) is about to repossess it. With three children of his own and limited income from his part-time job, all are afraid for their futures. Cue the entry of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) who flies in on George Jnr’s kite string, to bring order to the family in the process of reassuming her role as nanny to the younger Banks children. With the assistance of Jack the Lamplighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda) who is the former apprentice of Dick van Dyke’s character Bert in the original, the children and Mary undertake a number of adventures in the spirit of ‘anything’s possible’, in the hope of saving their home.
Based on other Mary Poppins stories written by Travers, there’s lots of warm familiarity to Mary Poppins Returns with the colour, songs, characters and humour of the original. A standout scene where Mary, Jack and the Banks children journey into the images on their mother’s Royal Doulton Bowl in an attempt to repair it, blends live action with hand drawn animal in a style faithful to the original Poppins penguin dancing extravaganza. The original songs are fabulous, as are the costumes. It feels like this was made by fans.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a highlight as Jack, and Emily Blunt fills Julie Andrews’ considerable shoes well, although her turn as Mary does not have quite the same feel of warmth to the children as Andrews’ version did. Colin Firth as bank President William “Weatherall” Wilkins turns bad guy with a dedication to profits that would be the envy of corporate banks today, and Meryl Streep and Dick van Dyke (not needing much of a costume for the aged Mr Dawes Jnr role this time) provide added star power to valuable cameos.
Mary Poppins Returns is set to be a joyful new classic in a movie world dominated by superheroes.
Footnote for fans: Check out 2013’s exceptional Saving Mr Banks documented the wit, wonder and tumultuous writing period of the Poppins original and starred Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers, and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.
Review by Sarah List