The original Mary Poppins came out in 1964, to critical acclaim. It received a total of 13 Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture – a record for any other film released by Walt Disney Studios – and won five. Mary Poppins Returns arrives 54 years later, will it hold up like the original?
Michael Banks was just a child when the practically-perfect nanny Mary Poppins first visited the Banks home, but he is now a grown man with children of his own. A struggling artist temporarily employed by Fidelity Fiduciary Bank—the same financial institution where his father and grandfather worked before him—Michael lives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his children: Annabel, John, and Georgie. Times are tough in Depression-era London. It’s the 1930s, and the city is in the midst of the “Great Slump,” so money is tight, people are anxious and the future is uncertain.
The family is struggling to cope with the recent death of Michael’s wife, and the house is rundown and in a constant state of chaos, despite the best efforts of their inefficient yet well-meaning and warmhearted housekeeper, Ellen. With the harsh reality of the times and the burden of their loss weighing heavily on the family, the children find themselves taking on additional responsibilities around the house…and growing up much too fast in the process.
His sister Jane has inherited her mother’s enthusiasm for good causes, and, while busy herself promoting workers’ rights, finds time to help Michael and his family every chance she gets. As it becomes more and more difficult for Michael to connect with his children while processing his own sorrow, the chairman of the bank, Mr. Wilkins—who appears to be a congenial and altruistic mentor to Michael but is actually duplicitous and shrewd—is in the process of foreclosing on the Banks home, sending the already frazzled Michael into a further tailspin.
Fortunately, the winds begin to change, and the enigmatic governess whose unique magical skills can turn any ordinary task into a fantastic adventure, enters the lives of the Banks family once again, having not aged a single day. Teaming up with an old friend, Jack, a charming and eternally optimistic street lamplighter, they take the Banks children on a series of whimsical adventures and introduce them to colorful characters like Mary’s eccentric Cousin Topsy and Jack’s lovable band of leeries, bringing life, love, and laughter back into the home.
It has always been a dream of Rob Marshall’s to conceive an original musical specifically for the film. The Oscar-nominated (“Chicago”), Emmy and DGA Award-winning director, who began his career on the Broadway stage as a choreographer and director, is responsible for the successful screen adaptations of “Chicago,” “Nine” and “Into the Woods” and knows how to construct a musical. He understands the world of film and the world of Broadway musicals in a unique and personal way, and “Mary Poppins Returns” was a chance for him to create a classic movie musical of his youth.
But without the right actors to bring that magic to life, the work would be in vain. For the role of the proper and enigmatic nanny, the filmmakers had only one person in mind: Emily Blunt.
Emily is a brilliant actress who is funny, warm, quick-witted and deeply-feeling. She can also really sing and dance. Mary Poppins is actually a very layered character, stern and reserved on the outside, yet warm-hearted and child-like on the inside. Emily was able to play all of those layers with such specificity and sophistication.
One of the best actors of his generation, Ben Whishaw (“SPECTRE,” “A Very English Scandal”), was cast as the adult Michael Banks. Mary Poppins comes back to help Michael, who has lost his way. Michael and Jane remember Mary Poppins from their childhood; however, they have convinced themselves that their magical adventures with the nanny were just imagined.
Tony Award and GRAMMY winner Marc Shaiman (“Hairspray,” “South Park”) and Tony winner and three-time Emmy nominee Scott Wittman (“Hairspray,” “Smash”) are big fans of the genre and huge fans of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman’s music from the first film. So when Shaiman was given the opportunity to compose an all-new original score and the music for new songs and, together with Wittman, write the lyrics, it was a dream come true.
The best song in Mary Poppins Returns, however, is the one that is likely going to make you cry. The song is called “The Place Where Lost Things Go” and it’s an emotional piece that gets at the heart of grief and loss and parental love. Relatively easy targets for a tear jerker but wait till you hear Emily Blunt sing it. Blunt’s beautiful voice soars and the kids’ back-up on the song hits right at the heart.
I wasn’t expecting much before seeing Mary Poppins Returns. I was kind of expecting the film to hopefully follow the original. Indeed, what we get is a gleefully fun movie that recalls the spirit of the original film and, in many ways, improves on the original. Emily Blunt is fantastic, Lin Manuel Miranda is lively and energetic and the music is spectacular and fun. Mary Poppins Returns is everything you could want from a Mary Poppins sequel and so much more.
Mary Poppins Returns is now playing in theaters.
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