Mary Poppins Returns movie cast: Emily Blunt, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Joel Dawson, Pixie Davis, Nathanael Saleh, Dick Van Dyke, Meryl Streep
Mary Poppins Returns movie director: Rob Marshall
Mary Poppins Returns movie rating: 2.5 stars
Fifty years is a long time for a reboot. But who’s going to say no to a magical woman with a speaking umbrella who makes everything right?
So here we go again. It’s still foggy grey London, and it’s still being lit up by an army of lamp-lighters. But the kids of the original film, based on the well-loved series by P L Travers, are now grown up: Michael Banks (Whishaw) has three of his own, Annabel, John and Georgie, whom he’s raising as a harried single parent, his wife having passed away. Michael’s sister Jane (Mortimer) is a labour union activist, and solid support to her grief-stricken brother, as well as a cheerful presence in the children’s lives.
Things are sort of bumping along until a big threat looms, in the shape of unscrupulous banker William Wilkins (Firth) who has an eye on the Banks’ childhood home. Will he succeed in his evil ways? Will the family be out on the streets?
Of course not, if Mary Poppins (Blunt), the perfect nanny, has her way. She descends from the clouds, all perky shoes and prim lips, just like Julie Andrews did in the original, more than half a century back. Blunt’s Poppins has to operate in a darker world, though: we are told it is the Depression, and things are tough and jobs are difficult to be had. So the new Mary‘s magic has to stretch more, and our being able to buy her and her bag of tricks depends upon how nimble this film is.
Let’s just say this: while Blunt is good, as are the children, and the rest of the performers do their job well enough, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is more stodgy than spry. The best musicals mean to make us want to leap up and sing and dance: only a couple here made me trip the light fantastic.
The two who made me smile the most were chief lamplighter Jack (Manuel-Miranda), fleet of foot and keen of eye, and Topsy (Streep), named thus because she’s all topsy-turvy. He’s there to light things up. She’s there to teach us a life-lesson (so what if things go whoops-a-daisy, there is light at the end of the tunnel, etc and so on) and could quite as easily been as heavy as a suet pudding, but Streep plays her whacky and off-kilter, to just the right degree. Which is exactly what’s required for a film like this, where we know the end when it begins.
You end up longing for more lightness, more magic. Still, there’s something to be said about a film which is so well costumed and dressed: is there any other setting quite as picturesque as cobbled London streets wreathed in fog? The child actors are charming, never annoyingly cloying. A couple of the sequences, when Blunt lets herself go, as well as the climactic set-piece, is quite lovely. And I could have stolen some of the clothes that Jane wears.
Happy to come away, again, with that line : ‘everything is possible, even the impossible’.
Hope does float, doesn’t it?