Saturday 19 January 2019

Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns

Fifty-five years after the original, Disney revives a classic character for another merry go-round of singing and dancing in Mary Poppins Returns.

It's 1935, and the Banks children – Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) are all grown up and facing adults issues just as their parents did. Michael's wife has tragically passed away, and he's struggling to hold it together as a single father to his three children – Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson).

With their childhood home on Cherry Tree Lane facing imminent foreclosure, Michael and Jane are thrown a lifeline when Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to offer a helping hand. Also along for the ride is Jack, a Cockney lamplighter who shares a special connection with Mary Poppins.

Disney is all about mining the past nowadays; some of their efforts have worked (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Beauty and the Beast), while others haven't fared as well (The Lone Ranger, Tron: Legacy). Mary Poppins Returns had the potential to go either way; after all, how does one deliver a sequel to the original, which was nominated for Best Picture and landed Julie Andrews a Best Actress Oscar?

Thankfully, Mary Poppins Returns does a jolly good job of doing exactly that. Evoking the same feeling of whimsy and delirium, this updated take on the character hits a lot of the same beats (which comes as no surprise) without feeling rote or tired.

Blunt, who previously worked with director Rob Marshall on Into The Woods, is the star of the show. Sporting a clipped English accent and decked out in bright blues and deep red hues, she is the perfect actress to revive Mary Poppins for the 21st century. Strict, silly and soft all rolled into one, her performance shows another side to one of the best actresses in the business –compare, for example, her work in this to Edge of Tomorrow and Sicario or A Quiet Place and The Girl on the Train. That's range.

The whole cast – from Miranda, Whishaw and Mortimer to the stacked supporting cast that includes the likes of Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters and Dick Van Dyke – is an embarrassment of riches. Even the child performances, which can sometimes be like nails on a chalkboard, are sweet and moving.

It wouldn't be Mary Poppins without some music, and there are plenty of great song and dance numbers in this sequel. The centrepiece – 'Trip A Little Light Fantastic' – is the best of the lot, but a dazzling number remiscent of Chicago called 'A Cover Is Not the Book' is also great. The finale – 'Nowhere to Go But Up' – might sound like a weird note to end on, but it's another winner.

The Verdict: 9/10

Overflowing with charm, this spirited sequel excels across the board. Blunt continues to impress and a great score will leave you beaming from ear to ear.

Mary Poppins Returns is in cinemas across Australia now.

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