Mary Poppins Returns, rated PG
Mary Poppins Returns is a delightful live-action/animated film free of any content issues that the entire family can enjoy. It’s one of my favorite films of the year (and my wife’s favorite!) The film is released 54 years after 1964’s Mary Poppins, which won five Oscars. The new film is directed by Oscar nominated Rob Marshall (Chicago). The film is written by Marshall, two-time Oscar nominee David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland), and two-time Emmy winner John DeLuca (Tony Bennett: An American Classic), based upon Mary Poppins stories by P.L. Travers. The film’s cast includes two Oscar winners – Colin Firth and Meryl Streep – and three Oscar nominees – Angela Lansbury, Julie Walters and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The all-new music is by five-time Oscar nominee Marc Shaiman (Sleepless in Seattle, Patch Adams, The First Wives Club, The American President, Hairspray) and three-time Emmy nominee Scott Wittman (Smash, The 82nd Annual Academy Awards, Hairspray). Cinematography is by Oscar winner Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha). Marshall chose to use hand drawn animation in the film to go along with the live action sequences. The film has received four Golden Globe nominations – best performance by an actress, best performance by an actor, best picture and best original score. The film had an estimated budget of $130 million.The film is set in London in the pre-war 1930s, a period the Brits referred to as “The Great Slump”, two decades after Mary Poppins first arrived at Cherry Hill Lane to care for the Banks children. Those children are now grown, and their parents have passed away. Michael Banks, played by Golden Globe nominee Ben Whishaw (A Very English Scandal), is grieving the recent death of his wife and trying to do the best he can. Michael lives with his three small children, Anabel, played by Pixie Davies (Humans), Georgie, played by Joel Dawson, and John, played by Nathaneal Saleh, and their frazzled housemaid Ellen, played by two-time Oscar nominee Julie Walters (Billy Elliot, Educating Rita). Michael is close to his unmarried sister Jane, played by Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl).
Michael is an artist who took a part-time job at his father’s old employer Fidelity Fiduciary Bank when he couldn’t make a living as an artist. In his grief and disorganization, he has fallen behind on house payments. His evil and heartless boss, William Wilkins, played by Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) is threatening to repossess the family home in five days unless Michael can pay the entire loan back by midnight. Michael’s only hope is in finding the missing stock certificate to the Fidelity shares his father left to him and Jane.
Soon we see Mary Poppins, played by Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt (Gideon’s Daughter, A Quiet Place) floating down from the sky with her umbrella, attached to Georgie’s kite. Mary tells Michael she will help with the children while he searches for the bank certificate.
Everyone is thrilled to see Mary, no one more than her old friend Jack, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Moana). Jack is a cheerful lamplighter who lights and extinguishes the streetlamps at the beginning and end of each day, and was once apprenticed by chimney sweep Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke in the original film). Mary and Jack take the children on journeys that stretch their imaginations. These scenes include excellent dance numbers and memorable songs such as “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and “Nowhere to Go But Up”. But will the Banks, with Mary’s help, be able to find the certificate and pay the mortgage to save the family home by the deadline?
The film features many nods back to the 1964 film, including an appearance by 93-year-old two-time Golden Globe nominee Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins, The New Dick Van Dyke Show) as Mr. Dawes Jr. Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, Sophie’s Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer) appears as Cousin Tops and three-time Oscar nominee Angela Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Gaslight) appears as Balloon Lady.
Refreshingly, there are no content concerns in the film. Themes in the film include the importance of family and helping others. The film features strong acting performances, led by Blunt and Miranda, who carry the film. Blunt is fantastic in the role of Mary Poppins, and it is no small feat replacing the Oscar winning Julie Andrews in the role. Miranda is excellent in his first major film role. Whishaw gives a moving performance as a grieving father who is slowly coming alive again. Mortimer is good as the supportive sister. She is an activist, like her mother, and there is a sweet romance between her and Miranda. All of the children are good in their roles, and Firth does a good job as the heartless banker.
The all-new music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman won’t outdo the Sherman brother’s songs from the 1964 film, but the songs are entertaining and memorable, and maybe even new classics. Note: Robert Sherman died in 2012, but Richard Sherman served as a consultant on the film. Of special note is the work by production designer two-time Oscar winner John Myhre (Chicago, Memoir of a Geisha) and costumer three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell (The Aviator, Shakespeare in Love, The Young Victoria).
Mary Poppins Returns is an entertaining, well-made and acted film that the entire family can enjoy this Christmas season.