“Grown ups forget, they always do,” says Emily Blunt as practically perfect Mary Poppins at the beginning of Mary Poppins Returns. While Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw), now adults facing the repossession of their childhood home in the midst of The Great Slump, may have forgotten to look for magic in the world, fans of the original 1964 musical have not forgotten a thing.
Director Rob Marshall takes great care to deliver a suitable homage to the classic film and character with this joyful and uplifting sequel. Now with children of his own, Michael must navigate his family’s financial situation as well as raising Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson) without the help of their recently deceased mother. The three kids, parenting their father as much as he parents them, have had little time to let their own imaginations run wild. Enter Mary Poppins, floating down on a blustery day, ready to calm the chaos and brighten the Banks’ family skies once again.
Every element of Mary Poppins Returns can be twinned to its source material, an approach that makes sure the film never veers too far off course for any die-hard Poppins fans. The role of beloved Bert the chimney sweep is transplanted into Jack the lamplighter, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda with apt cheekiness and charm. Where Bert chim-chiminey’d away, Jack trips “a little light fantastic” with his gang of leeries in the film’s best musical number. The visit to Uncle Albert, laughing on the ceiling, becomes a trip to cousin Topsy, a delightful segment with Meryl Streep, whose life turns upside down on the second Wednesday of every month. There are big nods to the original, segments recreated with some new twists, and some smaller touches that make this a colourful, nostalgic trip down Cherry Tree Lane.
The music is where the film falters, however, with none of the songs ever reaching the sweepingly-catchy heights of their predecessors. Instead, they are unfortunately forgettable and although some numbers make for entertaining viewing, others are surprisingly long and lose their resonance quickly in the film. The Royal Doulton Bowl sequence, a visit into the world of a painted china bowl that mimics the jump into Bert’s street painting in the original, begins with all the sweetness of that twin moment but soon feels like more of a drag than a burst of imaginative fun. As well as Jack’s lamplighter dance sequence, the lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go” is a softer highlight but still doesn’t quite live up to the heart wrenching “Feed the Birds”.
For fans of the original film this will be a very enjoyable sequel, perhaps just shy of being an all-round triumph, but an admirably heartwarming effort at continuing the legacy of everyone’s favourite magical nanny.