This sequel to the beloved 1964 original is filled with little tributes to the original but manages to stand out and feel completely original thanks to Rob Marshall’s practically perfect direction.
Watching this sequel feels like coming back to a home that you didn’t realise you missed – filled with familiar details and nods to the original, while bringing the story forward in time to make it relatable for today’s audiences, Mary Poppins Returns is a gloriously cheerful film.
Directed with warmth and charming, Rob Marshall’s film follows a similar formula to the original film in terms of the way in which Mary Poppins has to return to help the Banks children once more but also the lovely animated sequence that reminds us all of why Disney was so renowned for its original animated films. Yet, on the other side of this it is a film that recognises that audience who loved the original film has also grown up and so takes a more grown up look at the world in terms of dealing with grief and rediscovering your inner child when everything seems gloomy.
Set in the 1930’s, the film follows Michael Banks who is deep in grief for his wife while trying to look after his three young children and hold on to his family home. Enter Mary Poppins to once more to give the Banks family a point in the right direction and to fill their lives with plenty of magic and fun along the way.
The decision to set the film in the 1930’s during the great slump (or the great depression as it was also known) was the right one as Marshall is able to create striking parallels between then and now to ensure that the audience can relate to the situation of the Banks family and the fact they are set to lose their house due to a lack of money – which is something that can still be relatable today sadly. You really feel and see the strain that this has on the family as a whole, with the children being forced to grow up sooner than they should to prevent Michael from worrying about them.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom of course – there is still plenty of fun and magic to be had throughout. Not least the incredible bath tub sequence that doesn’t fail to delight or the lamplighters dance sequence that recalls the ‘Step in Time’ routine in the original film.
Everything is bright, colourful and cheerful that it is hard not to be swept away by it all, highlighted by Sandy Powell’s wonderfully imaginative costume designs (particularly Mary Poppins’s outfits), while the choreography is exciting and lively throughout – particularly look out for the music hall scene.
Musically, there is much to delight about Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s wonderful music and lyrics – not least ‘(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky’ that helps to set the scene beautifully, ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ is a heartfelt and tearful ballad that will have you reaching for the tissues and the lively and playful ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ just a few of the highlights.
There is also plenty to admire about the performances too. Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins might at times in terms of her accent come across as too prim and proper but still has a twinkle of mischievousness that shines through particularly in close up shots. She certainly feels slightly closer to the Mary Poppins of the books – more abrupt and doesn’t stand for any nonsense but still it is made extremely clear in her performance just how much the character cares about the Banks family.
Elsewhere, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack is charming and with cheeky twinkle to his performance that makes his character a delight to watch, Ben Whishaw is heartbreakingly good as Michael showing just how broken in grief and pressures of looking after his family he is, while the young actors and actresses playing his children give wonderfully mature performances. Colin Firth’s character Wilkins deserved to have further development but it is always a delight to see Meryl Streep and Julie Walters on screen – both doing what they do best adding more fun and humour to their scenes with great timing.
It is all beautifully and slickly filmed, feeling as spectacular as a West End musical – which is perhaps not surprising considering Marshall’s background in musical theatre. He uses his knowledge of musical theatre to create a warm hearted, immensely entertaining and spectacular film that will delight fans of the original.
By Emma Clarendon
Mary Poppins Returns is released in cinemas on the 21st December.