Mary Poppins, made in 1964, is practically perfect in every way. It is the jewel in Disney’s live action crown, and is rightfully regarded as one of the best films ever made. Naturally, in today’s modern saturated movie market, a long overdue sequel was made. While Mary Poppins doesn’t begin to eclipse the original, it gives it a damn good try.
Replacing Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins is Emily Blunt, and my god was it perfect casting. She has so much charm and heart but can also be stern and fair. A whole cast of characters from the original film return with new casting, including Julie Walters as Ellen the house chef, Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw as Jane and Michael Banks, and David Warner as Admiral Boom. New cast members include Colin Firth as the new president of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, Meryl Streep as Mary Poppins’ eastern European cousin Topsy, and most brilliantly, Lin Manuel Miranda as Jack, a cockney lamplighter who worked with Bert when he was younger. The cast are all on top form, and bring the magical world of Poppins to life.
The story is a fairly simple affair, and very similar to the first film. After his wife passed away, Michael and his children are about to lose their home, but Mary Poppins swoops in to help show them all what is really important. The film’s plot is very derivative of the original. In the first film, Mary Poppins arrives, teaches the kids how something boring can be fun, takes them on an animated adventure, visits a quirky singing relative, then takes them to the bank before dancing with a load of cockneys and so on. The same happens here, and because it’s so similar, it almost begs to be compared to the original.
Honestly, I think the film tries a bit too hard. There is clearly so much love and affection for the original in this film, and obviously everyone making it was enamoured with it. But I think that love has gone a bit too far, because what should be a simple film with bonkers adventures ends up being quite complicated and frankly over the top. I know that what characterised the first one was dancing on rooftops and jumping into pavement paintings, but this sequel ups that craziness to too much of a degree and it ultimately proves detrimental to the final product. That being said, the decision to create another sequence using hand-drawn cartoon animation was a stroke of genius, and it was wonderful to see the classic Disney style back on the big screen.
The tone of the original has been perfectly matched with the music and songs, and it’s clear that Richard M. Sherman (writer of the original songs with his brother Robert) was a music consultant. Composed by Marc Shaiman (of Hairspray fame) with lyrics from Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the music is just as vibrant and jolly as ever. The songs have a definite ‘this one is the new version of that old one’ feel, but this doesn’t really matter when so much gusto and charm is given to them.
Without a doubt, Lin Manuel Miranda’s song ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ is the standout piece, with a whole crowd of dancing lamplighters replicating the classic ‘Step in Time’ sequence. Another fun inclusion is an almost ‘Hamilton’ style lyrical rap section in the song “A Cover Is Not the Book”, clearly added once Miranda was cast in the part. The musical score also included references to several of the classic songs and these were particular highlights. Most importantly, just like the first, this film’s songs made me cry. Not as much, or for as long, but it does manage to pack an emotional punch.
Overall, Mary Poppins Returns is exactly that. It’s Mary Poppins returning for another fun and colourful adventure. It captures the tone and magic of the original, and while it is sometimes overdone, there are other moments where genuine greatness is reached.