by Alan Yudman
Life is crazy. Living in the USA has become a daily exercise in gripping one’s sanity tightly so as not to let go an fall into the abyss of crazy. So a distraction from all the crazy is always welcome. MARY POPPINS RETURNS is the distraction we all need.
Just in case you were not 100% sure, this is not a remake. Rather, it is a continuation of the story. Some 30 years later, Jane and Michael Banks are grown. Jane is a union organizer. Michael is a widower with three small children. And they are about to lose their family home. They know they can get the money together if only they can find the stock certificate their father George left them and use it to pay off a loan Michael had to take out against the house when his wife was dying. Alas, they cannot find it.
Into this desperate situation floats Mary Poppins. She brings her own brand of quirky wisdom to motivate the children and bring hope to the situation.
The story logically follows the original and is pulled off to great effect by director Rob Marshall, screenwriters Marshall, David Magee and John DeLuca. The music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is fun and fits right into the story. The integration of animation and live action are fantastic and recall the original in all the best ways.
How do you replace Julie Andrews? The answer is you really cannot. But if you have to, Emily Blunt is a fantastic replacement. Yes she can sing. Yes she can dance. Andrew’s Mary was a bit more “sunny” in disposition. Blunt feels a bit more direct and stern. The eternal optimism and the ability to see the best in everyone and everything is there. Blunt is a marvelous actress, so any question about whether she could pull this off should never have been considered. So shut up doubters. Emily is awesome!
I guess chimney sweeps aren’t a thing anymore, so Lin-Manuel Miranda is Jack, a “leery”.. one of the men who turn the gas lamps on and off around London. He steps into the Dick Van Dyke slot very ably. Miranda pops off the screen whenever he appears. His song and dance credentials were honed on Broadway, so this is a natural fit for him. Ben Whishaw as the grown Michael is another great young actor who completely knocks it out of the park. His touch song to his late wife early in the film is moving. He can sing well enough to pull it off and his ability as an actor covers up any other minor deficiencies. Emily Mortimer as the grown-up Jane is also great. She’s bubbly and enthusiastic, hitting all the right notes (even the one time she sings). The three children are just great. Pixie Davies (Anabel), Nathanael Saleh (John) and the adorable Joel Dawson (Georgie) are perfect foils/companions for Mary.
Colin Firth is a decent villain. Meryl Streep has a great, fun scene singing with Mary, Jack and the children. Dick Van Dyke’s appearance is heartwarming (no he doesn’t play Bert). And seeing royalty like Angela Lansbury is a treat.
Sometimes the film feels like it is trying just a bit too hard to mirror the original. But the winning performances and the upbeat music and hopeful story overcome any of those extremely minor criticisms. If you are looking to put a smile on your face and leave the theater with a pep in your step, MARY POPPINS RETURNS is just the spoonful of sugar you need to help the medicine of life go down smoothly (sorry, couldn’t resist just one).