54 years after Julie Andrews blew in from a land far, far away the Banks family are once again in desperate need of some guidance. Jane and Michael are now adults with Michael, and his three children, struggling to come to terms with the loss of their mother, his wife.
Cue the wind changing direction, a talking umbrella and a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks as Emily Blunt steps into the famous shoes of everyone’s favourite Nanny and does an excellent job of putting her own spin on Mary’s magically chaotic childminding charms. Whilst it must have been incredibly daunting taking on such an iconic role, Blunt holds her own in bringing sincerity and a sense of loneliness to the hardened exterior of her business-like persona and revels in the playful adventures of the fantasy realms.
As the story unfolds there are some wonderfully whimsical tributes to the original film. Whether it’s a subtle jingle of music, the reveal of a character’s name or someone asking for directions (keep your eyes peeled). Even the dancing penguins are back in one of many highlights.
The ensemble cast throw themselves into the spirit of things with gusto. Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack (complete with a questionable Mockney twang) is a lot of fun and instantly likeable, Emily Mortimer is delightful as the determined Jane, very much following in her mother’s footsteps, and Meryl Streep as Topsy, a distant relative of Mary’s, is as colourful as her accent. Colin Firth is suitably smarmy as Wilkins, the new head of the bank where Michael now works, and he’s ably backed up by Jeremy Swift and an endearing Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.
Ben Whishaw, although he acts his socks off as Michael Banks in a brilliant performance especially during a poignant song (A Conversation), perhaps looks a little young and boyish as the grieving father of three. That’s a very minor and possibly petty quibble, but one worth mentioning.
Dick Van Dyke’s much heralded brief appearance is worth the price of the cinema ticket alone and that twinkle in his eye is still shining brightly as he lights up the screen with charm and warmth to remind us of what a superb entertainer he still is.
Director Rob Marshall and composer Marc Shaiman create some toe-tapping musical numbers, particularly Trip a Little Light Fantastic which is a chimney sweeping tribute to the sublime Step in Time from the first film. Whilst the music isn’t as memorable as the original movie there features some clever animation, and the visual spectacle accompanying the tunes is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. New worlds are visited, but a sense of familiarity remains at its heart.
Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to the immensely high standard of Mary Poppins, but still an incredibly warm, fun and lovely film, Mary Poppins Returns at just the right time to deliver an almost practically perfect spoon full of sugar for all the family to enjoy.
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