With the recent glut of nostalgia mining going on in Hollywood these days, it's no surprise that Disney has decided to make a sequel to Mary Poppins (1964), one of their most beloved films. Luckily, this return to 1930s London is full of both nods to the original film as well as new adventures in a perfect mixture of familiarity and modern sensibility.
The Banks children have grown up and still live in their old house on Cherry Tree Lane. Michael (Ben Winshaw) has three children of his own (though his wife has passed away in the usual Disney fashion) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) is helping him take care of the household. After they run into some money troubles their family home is in danger of being repossessed by the bank which is the catalyst for the legendary nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) to return to once again come to the aid of two generations of Banks.
"Mary Poppins Returns" is a breezy and wholesome affair for the most part, with very little peril and conflict. While the family is indeed in danger of losing their home it never feels terribly important, and the narrative takes a lot of side trips into unrelated issues. That being said, these jaunts are enjoyable to watch and a great excuse to have numerous creative musical sequences.
The special effects in this film are absolutely fantastic with a mixture of CGI, elaborate set-pieces, and even some old-school traditional 2D cel animation! The 2D animated section is gorgeous and eye-popping with character designs and animation supervised by industry veteran James Baxter and over seventy animators from Walt Disney Studio and Pixar Animation Studios. It was so refreshing to see this style on the big screen again, and I hope that it might renew interest in a full-length film with this aesthetic. Both children and adults will be spellbound and delighted at the fantastical visuals on display and it's hard not to have a big goofy smile plastered on one's face during these parts.
Although the songs in Mary Poppins Returns aren't as memorable as the first film, they are pretty catchy and fit the mood well. I enjoyed the fact that they didn't give in to the temptation to have a lot of musical cues from the original to pander to nostalgia--though an iconic leitmotif or two does sneak in occasionally. The dance scenes have a ton of energy and are edited well with a lot of creative staging.
Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way as Mary Poppins and is a joy to watch in this role. She is definitely channeling some of Julie Andrews' take on the character, but she injects a lot of her own quirky and adorable mannerisms as well. Her singing voice is lovely and she embodies Mary's regal bearing and snarky attitude to a tee. Her partner for all these magical activities is Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) a lamplighter who was an apprentice to Dick Van Dyke's Bert character from the first film. Jack is a wonderfully written character who is full of life and love and his energetic rendition of the songs is infectious. They have great chemistry together and he's a great foil to her slightly more reserved characterization.
Mary Poppins Returns is a great example of how to do a sequel right. It doesn't rely too heavily on nostalgia and it uses what made the first film so memorable in a fresh way. It's the perfect film to take the little ones to go see this Christmas season. I'm going to give "Mary Poppins Returns" a 7 out of 10.