There are a couple of different ways to look at Disney’s current mission to revisit most of their iconic properties. The cynical way is to view them as mere cash grabs that do little more than repackage stories in different wrapping. The more generous way is to say that they’re giving a new generation a chance to call a movie their own, regardless of whether they’ve seen the original or not.
The fantastic thing about Mary Poppins Returns, though, is that it seamlessly blends together the old and the new for a thoroughly enchanting experience. Taking over the role of Mary Poppins from Julie Andrews is Emily Blunt, who can play prim and proper as well as sweet and charming with the best of them. Those traits and others make her introduction as Poppins smooth and easy.
The magical nanny has been summoned into action due to the family struggles of the now grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), whose wife died the year before. His kids — John (Nathanael Saleh), Anabel (Pixie Davies), and Georgie (Joel Dawson) — are a mostly obedient group, but their mother’s absence and the prospect of possibly losing their home still affects them deeply.
Mary, with ever-willing assistance by lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), proceeds to help the Banks children as only she can, including fantastical trips to an underwater land, into a painted pottery scene, and more. The lessons she imparts are never heavy-handed, but rather ones meant to guide those willing to listen to where they need to be.
Though this sequel is coming 54 years after the original, director Rob Marshall and his team have somehow made the years between the two vanish. Sure, the visuals are greatly enhanced thanks to modern technology, but the filmmakers have paid homage to the first film in all the best ways, giving the new movie a similar feel without ever coming across as a mere copy.
A big part of this are the new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Many of them are so quick that it will take repeat viewings to fully appreciate them, but a few stand out so much that they instantly compare to the classics from the original. These include “Can You Imagine That?,” “The Place Where the Lost Things Go,” “Nowhere to Go But Up,” and especially “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.” That last song is a showcase for Miranda that will leave you humming it long after you leave the theater.
The film is bursting at the seams with so many wonderful elements that it’s almost impossible to list them all. Blunt is near-perfect as Mary, and Miranda proves that his talents are not constrained to making Tony Award-winning musicals. Supporting turns by Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, and Colin Firth are a delight, as are cameos by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, and the inimitable Dick Van Dyke.
Mary Poppins Returns is a film designed to make tons of money, but you won’t regret paying to see it for one second. Your childhood memories will remain intact and be enhanced by this mesmerizing movie.