Mary Poppins Returns

 

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Disney wheels out an exuberant sequel to its 1964 classic with cheery performances and decent lyrics, albeit with a much darker tone.

   

Mary Poppins Returns

Jiggedy-jog: Emily Blunt (in the red dress) 

 

It almost seems sacrilegious for Disney to produce a sequel to Mary Poppins. Just as it was sacrilegious, perhaps, to turn their cartoon classic Beauty and the Beast into a live-action, billion dollar-grossing hit. And Disney has dominated our multiplexes this year with their Marvel titles Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Ant-Man and the Wasp, as well as Incredibles 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story (all of which ended up in the US top-ten). Five out of ten isn’t bad. However, their more traditional Disneyesque fare, Disney’s Christopher Robin and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, were both commercial and critical disappointments.

 

Now we have Mary Poppins Returns, dragging Golden Globe nominations and critical accolades in its wake. But it hasn’t been to everybody’s liking. And while the sequel is not going to change musical history, it does arrive with a few aces up its sleeve. Its trump card is director Rob Marshall, who knows a thing or two about movie musicals, having brought us the Oscar-winning Chicago as well as the fiercely underrated Nine and the canny, exuberant Into the Woods, which starred Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt. He also won an Emmy for his choreography of the TV movie Annie and has pocketed five Tony award nominations. Thankfully, his Midas touch can be seen all over MPR.

 

It was also a sage move to keep the animation sequences hand-drawn, as in the original (long before the plastic perfection of CGI came along). Of course, there are special effects galore, but they are used to enhance the magic of a bygone London (1935), seen largely at night and in rain and fog. The street on which Michael Banks still lives seems to occupy a familiar corner of the city, at once recognisable from such films as the Paddington pair and Christopher Robin. But when the Cockney lamplighter Jack opens the film with his cheery ‘(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky' you think he must be joking. This is a dark and gloomy place, like the chimneys frequented by Dick Van Dyke in the first film. And before Mary Poppins returns, the film exerts a considerably murkier tone. Michael (Ben Wishaw, the voice of Paddington), is mourning the death of his wife and because he has missed three months’ payment on his loan, he and his three children are to be made homeless by the Machiavellian banker William 'Weatherall' Wilkins Jr (Colin Firth). Still, there’s always the priceless Royal Doulton bowl so beloved by Michael’s wife, but even that gets broken during a scuffle between the children. Any minute now, one senses, Lord Voldemort will come knocking at the door. But even in our despondency, we haven’t forgotten the title of the film and know that with a kite, a balloon, a spoonful of sugar and Mary Poppins, everything will be all right.

 

As Mary Poppins, Emily Blunt is oddly clipped and military in manner, but is terrific when she puts her heart in a song. Lending excellent support is Lin-Manuel Miranda – the composer and lyricist of Hamilton – who brings just the right amount of charm and cheek to Jack, who has a twinkle in his eye for Michael’s sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), who lives just around the corner. The fact that regular lamplighters no longer existed in London in 1935 is perhaps irrelevant. This is a world suffused with magic, where anything can happen. There’s also a delightful cameo from Dick Van Dyke, now 93, and winning turns from the young children, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson. The cameo from Meryl Streep seems a bit gratuitous, belonging more in tone to Lemony Snicket than P.L. Travers. But the lyrics, provided by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, have wit to spare and are not afraid to introduce grown-up words. And Poppins’ own exclamations of “pish-posh” and “jiggeddy-jog” should be introduced into the national lexicon.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, David Warner, Jim Norton, Jeremy Swift, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Noma Dumezweni, Sudha Bhuchar, Steve Nicolson, Christopher Godwin, John Dagleish, Karen Dotrice; and Voices of: Chris O’Dowd, Mark Addy, Edward Hibbert.

 

Dir Rob Marshall, Pro Rob Marshall, John DeLuca and Marc Platt, Screenplay David Magee, from a story by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca, adapted from characters created by P.L. Travers, Ph Dion Beebe, Pro Des John Myhre, Ed Wyatt Smith, Music Marc Shaiman (with ‘instrumental phrases’ by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman); songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Costumes Sandy Powell.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/Lucamar Productions/Marc Platt Productions-Walt Disney Productions

130 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 21 December 2018. Cert. U.