When P.L. Travers sat down to write her books about a sweet, magical, practically perfect (yet vain) nanny in charge of Jane and Michael Banks, little did she realize what kind of a global sensation she would create. When Walt Disney wanted to make a film adaptation from the classic stories, a nasty battle between author and film maker occurred. While Travers herself was not happy with the final results and placed in her will that Walt Disney could never make another film based on her property, Disney’s Mary Poppins went on to become a massive film success. The film was winner of multiple awards and made Julie Andrews a household name. It is still seen as one of the greatest film musicals ever made.
Now, in the wake of P.L .Travers passing in 1996, relationships between The Walt Disney Company and The P.L. Travers Estate have eased and allowed the creation of something fans of the original film dreamed of for years: a sequel. Only trouble is that since years have passed, Julie Andrews not only has become a bit too old to play the ageless nanny, but an unfortunate throat surgery made her lose her singing voice as well. This left Disney with the ultimate task: create a sequel worthy of the classic film, with a cast that can walk in giant shoes left behind by a talented cast.
This time, in Mary Poppins Returns, we find that we have jumped from 1910 to 1930s London, a time of economic depression. Michael Banks is now grown up and is the owner of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. He is a recent widower with three children to raise. His sister, Jane, comes over to help Michael when she is not busy fighting the fight for the poor in England (she seems to have inherited her mother’s spirit). Michael Banks is introduced as a lost man barely hanging on when he suddenly learns that Fidelity Fiduciary Bank has given him five days to pay full on a loan or lose the family home. This is when – and just in time – Mary Poppins returns to the life of Jane and Michael Banks to not only help with Michael’s kids through a series of magical adventures, but to also help Michael remember his love for life and help him move on from his wife’s death.
So, how exactly can I describe this film? A lot of people seem to be nervous because of one reason or another: tired of sequels/reboots, fear that Emily Blunt could never live up to Julie Andrews… you name it, it’s been mentioned. So, exactly how was this film that all eyes are on to see if it sinks or swims?
Imagine a plate. That plate has a smile on it. Then suddenly you get a scoop of happiness on that plate. You go to eat it but before you even get half way done eating it, you get a double size serving of more happy. You eat that serving, then suddenly get a triple serving more. Just when you think you can’t take anymore happy, your body finds a way to make room. Good thing, too, because you suddenly get a nonstop pouring of happy to digest. That is, this film: pure happy. Antidote for all the nasty-nasties that life has thrown our way in 2018. Just pure, delicious happy.
No one can ever be Julie Andrews, and honestly, if you walk in with that mentality then you will not allow yourself to enjoy the magic of this film. (As it stands, letting go and enjoying things for what they are is a key message of this film.) Emily Blunt does a great job here as Mary Poppins. She has a sprinkle of Julie here and there, but most importantly she has become a full embodiment of the character P.L. Travers committed to paper all those years ago. The moment she starts giving orders to the Banks children and being facetious about her magic, you see Mary Poppins come to life in a practically perfect way.
However, the big stand out here is Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack, a London lamplighter. While his role could have just been dismissed as Bert 2.0, he gives Jack a fully-fleshed out life that makes him a better companion to Mary Poppins than Bert. Also, we get a chance to see on the big screen what Broadway fans already know about him: he is a super quadruple threat: he can sing, act, dance, and rap effortlessly. Not only are his musical numbers some of the most memorable in the film, his chemistry with both Blunt and Emily Mortimer (who plays the grown up Jane Banks) will make you grin from ear to ear, or maybe even trip a little light fantastic.
Does the film have nods and recalls to the original film? Of course it does. It needs them, though, as you learn not only in the journey of Michael’s reawakening but in the final climax of the film. There are fresh spins to classic moments from the original film done here to make it not feel like a simple retreading (especially in the animated porcelain bowl segment) that will just sweep you up in the magic. Mary Poppins Returns is destined to be a crowd-pleaser in the same vain as the original film for years to come.