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edge staff writer


Nanny nostalgia – ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

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On its surface, it would appear to be the most unnecessary sequel in a cinematic landscape already littered with unnecessary sequels. The mere idea seems to epitomize the monetization of nostalgia. Its title sounds more like a punchline than an actual movie.

Despite how we might feel about its existence, there’s no getting around it: beloved magical nanny Mary Poppins has returned in Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns.” And yet, even with the perceived strikes against it, the filmmakers have managed to make a decent film. Better than decent, in fact – this movie is actually pretty good.

Obviously, it doesn’t measure up to the original – no movie could, and it would be ridiculous to expect otherwise. There are stretches where it doesn’t quite click. However, for the most part, “Mary Poppins Returns” is a light and lovely story, a chance to spend a little more time with an iconic character. And it’s generally time well-spent.

A now-grown Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw, “Paddington 2”) is living in his childhood home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. He’s a widower, struggling to make ends meet and raise his three kids with help from his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer, “Head Full of Honey”) and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”). The children – Anabel (Pixie Davies, TV’s “Humans”), John (Nathanael Saleh in his feature debut) and Georgie (Joel Dawson in his debut) – are very buttoned-down, having been forced to grow up too fast following the death of their mother.

Money is tight – so tight that Michael hasn’t been keeping up with payments on the loan he took out using his house as collateral. He’s three months late, meaning that the bank can repossess his house unless he pays back the loan in full by the end of the week.

Into this fraught situation sails Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt, “A Quiet Place”), the seemingly-magical nanny of Michael and Jane’s childhood. She walks back into their lives and immediately takes on the care of the children, despite their protests that they’re perfectly capable of caring for themselves, thank you very much. But when they start to see what Mary can do, they change their tune.

The children are swept along into big adventures by Mary, venturing under the sea and into the scene painted on a ceramic bowl. The group is accompanied by Mary’s friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Speech & Debate”), a lamplighter who as a child worked alongside a chimney sweep named Bert.

All the while, everyone is desperately trying to find a way to save the house. Michael and Jane’s father supposedly bought shares in the bank – more than enough to cover the loan – but the proof seems to have been lost. And without that proof, uptight bank president William Wilkins (Colin Firth, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”) will repossess the house at 17 Cherry Tree Lane.

It’s up to the Banks family to save their home and each other – with a little help from Mary Poppins.

Revisiting such an iconic character is not without its risks, and while “Mary Poppins Returns” navigates that tricky terrain fairly deftly, there are a few stumbles. The narrative is a bit thin and the experience in general is a bit more derivative of the original than you might like; there’s not a lot about this film that feels new. The beats that are hit are familiar ones, occasionally overly so, though in director Rob Marshall’s defense, you can’t mess around too much with such an iconic character. It’s a fine line – and he walks it more often than he doesn’t.

The production numbers are solid. There’s an undersea sequence that has a lovely retro vibe to it. There are a couple of big feelings songs that will have your eyes welling. There’s an extended sequence featuring lamplighters on bicycles (and those dudes can absolutely SHRED). And there’s the obligatory song-and-dance with Poppins and company alongside a cohort of animated characters; this one features maybe my favorite of the film’s songs (“A Cover is Not the Book”). Other song highlights include “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” and “Nowhere to Go But Up.”

None of this works if you don’t have a rock-solid Mary Poppins. And Emily Blunt does a wonderful job making the character her own. She’s not doing an impression of Julie Andrews here; she does a nice job of making the character her own while also staying true to the spirit that made her so beloved in the first place. The rest of the ensemble is strong as well. Miranda is great; his musical theater nerdiness shines through in every scene. You’ve never seen anyone so delighted to be in a movie. Whishaw and Mortimer are wonderful as the grown Banks children; Davies, Saleh and Dawson strike just the right notes as the kids. Walters is wonderful and Firth really makes a meal out of his scenes. Oh, and there are some legends here as well – Meryl Streep has a great scene, while Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke himself make appearances.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is … nice. And that’s perfectly OK. While the movie may have had aspirations to be more than that, the truth is that nice is enough.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Saturday, 22 December 2018 12:16


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