MARY POPPINS RETURNS
Director: Rob Marshall
Screenwriter: David Magee, from a screen story by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca, based on the books by P. L. Travers.
Dick Van Dyke
Runtime: 130 mins.
Australian release date: 1 January 2019
Previewed at: Hoyts Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney, on 3 December 2018.
For many years, the Australian author Pamela Travers resisted having her 1934 literary creation turned into a celluloid heroine at the hands of the Walt Disney Studios but she was eventually won over by the Studios’ persistence. She and Walt famously clashed over almost every detail but the resulting 1964 film starring Julie Andrews seemed to please her and she admitted to having a tear in her eye when the end credits rolled on Mary Poppins. Now, after a wait of nearly 55 years, Mary Poppins Returns, this time featuring Emily Blunt in the starring role, and it’s pleasing to report that Ms. Travers would probably have got her handkerchief out once again. The film is a delight - on a par with its much-loved predecessor - and Blunt, it must be said, is the equal of Andrews. It’s ‘practically perfect’ in every way.
The new film is once again set in London but it’s 20 or so years since the enchanting nanny sailed into the sky on her umbrella, having successfully brought magic, love and laughter to the Banks family. We’re now in the 1930s and Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) Banks are now adults; he’s recently widowed and struggling to raise his three children, Annabel, John and Georgie, in the same house in which he and his sister grew up, 17 Cherry Tree Lane. He also works for the same Fidelity Fiduciary Bank as his father did, but is battling to keep the roof over their heads, plus employ their live-in housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters). Jane is living there, too, helping Michael with the kids when she’s not out campaigning for workers’ rights. Just as it looks like the bank is going to foreclose on the house’s mortgage, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) re-enters their lives and, with the help of her lamp-lighter friend Jack (Lin Manuel-Miranda), brings ‘a spoonful of sugar’ into their lives ‘in the most delightful way’.
Mary Poppins Returns is directed by Rob Marshall, who’s known for this kind of song-and-dance fare and excellent at it, having made the musicals Chicago, Nine and Into The Woods. David Magee’s screenplay beautifully captures the essence of Travers’s stories, drawing from material contained in the seven books she wrote after the original Mary Poppins novel appeared. His script also cleverly acknowledges the first film and references it in a number of ways. The terrific score is by Marc Shaiman, who brought us the music for Hairspray, and the film features all new songs with Shaiman’s music and lyrics by him and Scott Wittman. Aussie cinematographer Dion Beebe is Marshall’s go-to cameraman and, once again, he hones in on the action here. Marshall’s direction and choreography pay homage to Mary Poppins, especially in the big 2-D animated sequence that makes up the movie’s central set-piece. Whishaw and Mortimer both acquit themselves well as the down-trodden siblings who have forgotten the important life-lessons that Poppins had taught them when they were children; Colin Firth plays the film’s sly villain, William Weatherall Wilkins, with relish (how timely for Australian viewers that he’s a banker!) but Meryl Streep is almost too OTT as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy; Angela Lansbury appears as the Balloon Lady, a treasured character from the books, and Dick Van Dyke makes a fun cameo as the retired chairman of the bank now run by Firth’s character. But it’s Miranda and, especially, Blunt’s film. They are all over it and both are extraordinary triple threats, being able to act, sing and dance, with equal capability. I see an Oscar nom for Blunt at the very least.
Mary Poppins Returns is great fun, featuring wonderful music and energetic choreography. It’s an old-school musical that’ll have you grinning from ear to ear as you leave the cinema, while surreptitiously dabbing your eyes with a tissue. Ms. Travers would approve.