Fifty-four years is quite the wait for a sequel but the sweetness and charm with which Mary Poppins Returns lands on our screens makes it pretty much worth it. It’s a film that does more than wrap you up in a warm blanket of nostalgia, it tucks you in, throws another log on the fire and makes you a steaming hot chocolate (no marshmallows though!).
Set 30 years after the much-cherished original, the story (by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca based on PL Travers’ original tales) sees us rejoin Cherry Tree Lane where the adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives with his young family (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joel Dawson). But much like the other long-held sequel of the year, a sadness fills the house for a mother has died. And Michael’s artistic inclinations and a part-time job at the bank aren’t bringing in enough to keep them from repossession. Who could possibly save the day…?
Emily Blunt of course, with a swish of haughty character and a fabulously recherché accent which immediately banishes thoughts of Julie Andrews. It doesn’t sound like anyone you’ve ever heard before but then that’s kinda the whole point of Mary Poppins isn’t it, just listen to the way ‘can you imagine that’ slides off her tongue like the dearest manuka honey, it’s just delicious. And it’s so fascinating to appraise a character like this through adult eyes, you can still appreciate the magic the brings but you see clearly the lessons she’s teaching everyone, the resourcefulness she inspires.
So once she reinstalled in the house, she sets about making everything spit-spot – underwater adventures in the trippy ‘Can You Imagine That?’, music-hall shenanigans in the hugely enjoyable ‘The Royal Doulton Music Hall’, full-on song and dance (and wheelie) splendour in the irrepressible ‘Trip A Little Light Fantastic’. Marc Shaiman’s score has the unenviable task of competing with decades-long memories of stone-cold classics but there’s an immediacy and heartfelt earnestness to them that suggests we could be listening to these songs for a while yet.
And if Marshall’s direction seems determined to pack every frame with a nostalgic touchstone, it is hard to resist the emotional pull they provide. Whishaw’s Michael in the attic had me weeping, the return of the penguins turned those tears to joy, familiar tunes drifting in on the underscore are just gorgeous, the late-arriving cameos – that blanket just gets snugglier and snugglier, only a fool would resist. And there’s new pleasures too. It’s great to see Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (who technically saves the day!) and Noma Dumzeweni in the cast, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is sweetly appealing as cockney lamplighter Jack, his ‘(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky’ setting the mood perfectly.
Yes, it’s not the same as the original but heaven knows, neither is the world today. And there’s nothing wrong in getting lost in the pleasures of the familiar, whilst also suggesting the hint of something new, even if that is just a reminder of the simple delight of holding a balloon.
“Perhaps we’ve learned when day is done
Some stuff and nonsense could be fun”
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