As much as I call myself a Disney fan, Mary Poppins has been an anomaly for me. I won’t deny that the original was a marvel with its blend of live action and animation. But I can’t shake that drug-induced feeling the moment the penguins start dancing on screen. Unexplained sequences of events are just not my thing!
Then again, as Mary Poppins would put it, I might have forgotten how to be a child. So, putting my doubts aside, I sat down to watch 130 minutes of potential improbability.
Mary Poppins Returns kicks off with Michael Banks facing the grim side of adulthood. His wife has passed away, his debts are mounting and he faces possible eviction from No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane with three kids in tow. Yup, it’s a perfect time for Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) to come back. Here, Mary Poppins is a tad vainer and saucier than the Julie Andrews version. One scene has her kicking up her heels in a slightly cabaret number with chimney sweep sidekick Jack. It’s a delightful scene, but I struggled to see Julie Andrews’ character doing the same. Other than a few 21st Century touches though, Emily Blunt embodies the famous nanny in a fashion that is pretty much “perfect in every way”. Blunt’s ability to sing, dance, and still maintain that unflappable composure (and hair) is a joy to see on screen.
She’s almost upstaged though by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack. Jack is the kind of character whose very presence means that something good is about to happen. Miranda’s experience in Broadway positively oozes out of him and I’m so glad that the Disney team took full advantage of this. Arguably the most memorable scene involves Jack and a troupe of rather-talented chimney sweeps repeating the phrase “trip a little light fantastic”. Do I know what the phrase means? Nope (even though the movie tries to explain it to you). But I also don’t care because, trust me, that scene is good enough to put on repeat even if the words don’t make any sense.
One of the things that the film does best is preserve that nostalgia of the original. In every corner (including the Monet-esque DVD menu), old world charm seeps out its pores. It’s the sort of thing that will allow you to forgive a storyline that you’ve already seen in the first Mary Poppins. I took my parents (who are notorious for sleeping through movies) to see this and at the end of it, they said they enjoyed it so much they wanted to see it again. Let me tell you: if my narcoleptic parents loved it, it’s probably a good sign.
In fact, I can’t think of a better word to describe Mary Poppins Returns than “show-stopper”. You come away feeling like you’ve just watched a Broadway musical. Albeit, I can’t remember most of the songs because either there are too many words, or the tunes, for whatever reason, aren’t as catchy as “Supercalifragilistic”. But it’s undeniably enjoyable from start to finish – just when you think more entertainment can’t be had, the film throws yet another gem into the mix (91-year-old Dick Van Dyke, anyone?).
What I’m relieved to say is that the film understands that the scenes, no matter how eye-catching and fantastic, still have to make some sort of underlying sense. It’s this sort of thinking that allows me to relax when talking animals start appearing, instead of feeling like I’m tripping. As Dick Van Dyke puts succinctly, “This story is in very good hands,” and I can’t help but agree.