While watching “Mary Poppins Returns,” I spent half the time grinning, half the time crying, and half the time feeling like a little kid again.
I know, I know -- bad math in that paragraph; but I kinda need the extra half to say how much I loved this movie.
Even though Disney’s upcoming roster is chock-full of updates, this new film is not a remake of the 1964 original; it’s actually a sequel, set a couple decades later, with the Banks children grown and dealing with their own adult problems (and their own precocious children). Yet its stellar music, top-flight cast and ravishing visuals evoke the beloved classic far better than any remake ever could.
Granted, Emily Blunt can’t sing as well as Julie Andrews; but good luck finding someone who could do that while also capturing Mary’s prim, pert, motherly manners, laced with a hint of all-knowing insouciance. (Regarding that last sentence: I had a tough time coming up with adjectives and nouns to describe Mary’s practically perfect persona -- but whatever you call it, Blunt simply nails it in every scene.)
Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack, a lamplighter who’s the natural heir of Dick Van Dyke’s character in the original film. As one of countless unsung London workers, Jack sets the stage for the show-stopping “Trip the Light Fantastic” -- a sort of recasting of “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” with an army of lamplighters dashing about on lampposts, ladders and acrobatic bicycles.
That’s just one of many terrific new tunes composed by Michael Shaiman -- the other highlight being “A Cover Is Not the Book,” which occurs in an imaginary realm after Mary, Jack and the children step in amongst the drawings on a priceless family urn.
Both here and in the bathtub scene, Disney’s animators go full retro, with what appear to be hand-drawn figures and backgrounds in the classic style of “101 Dalmatians” and “The Aristocats.” You can scarcely believe how magical this feels in our era of satiny, hyper-realistic, computerized animation. Same goes for the impressionistic paintings that run behind the lovely opening credits. Indeed, the whole visual scheme feels so old-fashioned that I’ll wager they made this movie with celluloid rather than the now-more-widespread digital format.
Add to this a cast that includes Ben Wishaw, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and a dandily dancing Dick Van Dyke, hopping up and hoofing it atop a desk at the young old age of 92.
And as if that weren’t enough, “Returns” has a suspenseful plot in which the recently widowed Michael Banks is about to lose his family home to a greedy bank -- a tale which script-writer David Magee uses to develop his theme about whether or not one can turn back time.
Needless to say, this marvelous film answers that question with a resounding YES.
“Mary Poppins Returns,”
directed by Rob Marshall
Run time: 130 min.
* * * * (out of four)
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action