Mary Poppins Returns
Looking for some joy in your life? Search no further than Mary Poppins Returns, a welcome dose of holiday happiness that honors its beloved predecessor and thoroughly adds to its legacy.
Likewise in need of positivity is grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), a recent widower with three children — Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathaniel Selah), and Georgie (Joel Dawson) — whose forgetfulness on repaying a loan put his lifetime 17 Cherry Street home at risk of foreclosure.
To the rescue once more is Mary Poppins, whose mere sight descending from the sky, umbrella in hand, is enough to make one’s eyes feel a little misty. Inheriting the legendary role from Julie Andrews, Emily Blunt is wholly charming in her own way and wins over the children and viewers alike in a delightful, elaborate — naturally — bathtub sequence.
Practically matching her quirk and happy outlook is Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a lamplighter (or “leery” for short) who’s a terrific substitute for his old pal Bert, yet stands apart thanks to distinct singing and dancing techniques and a sweet, amusing crush on grown-up Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer).
Combining their talents to entertain the children — all of whom are pleasant company, especially young Georgie — Mary and Jack reel off one catchy song after another by the team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray), none greater than “Step In Time” descendant “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” in which Jack leads his fellow leeries on a magnificent throwback dance romp, modernized with bicycle stunts. (Were clapping during movies appropriate, at least three songs would merit such in-theater appreciation.)
Under the loose yet purposeful direction of Rob Marshall (Chicago), Meryl Streep gets in on the fun as Mary’s eccentric Eastern Bloc cousin Topsy and Julie Walters is a treat as the Banks’ no-nonsense maid Ellen, part of an all-around sufficiently developed supporting cast.
The lone exception is transparent banker villain Wilkes (Colin Firth), whose motivation is basic at best and honestly isn’t done right by the otherwise strong script from master adapter David Magee (Finding Neverland; Life of Pi), especially compared with how Mary Poppins handled its antagonists.
But with Wilkes’ goofy colleagues Gooding (Jeremy Swift, Spratt from Downton Abbey) and Frye (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Paddington 2) balancing out his character deficiencies, whimsical live-action and animated visual treats arriving on a regular basis, and heartwarming late appearances by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury on the way, hiccups are minimal.
That such well-rounded glee is delivered with a true family-friendly rating only adds to its wonder and posits Mary Poppins Returns as a film worth revisiting as frequently as its heralded precursor — perhaps even as a double feature.
Grade: A-minus. Rated PG. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark, and Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Walt Disney Pictures)