Title: Mary Poppins Returns
Genre: Musical, Family, Comedy, Fantasy
Director: Rob Marshall
based on the MARY POPPINS stores by P.L. Travers
Music: Marc Shaiman
Cinematography: Dion Beebe
Dick Van Dyke
54 years later, a sequel recasting Emily Blunt as our beloved omnipotent nanny Mary Poppins, returns to the mundane world in the ‘30s London, when siblings Michael Banks and Jane Banks (Whishaw and Mortimer), who are under her care 25 years earlier, now adults, are going to lose their family house owing to an impending repossession if they fail to find the certificate of their bank shares, whereas Michael’s three motherless children, John, Annabel and Georgie (Saleh, Davies, and Dawson), are going to have a hell of a ride under the tutelage of Mary Poppins and lamplighter Jack (Miranda), with the latter taking the mantle from Dick Van Dyke’s Bert from the original movie.
Rob Marshall’s directorial credibility unfortunately, has dwindled significantly after the pinnacle of his rosy debut CHICAGO (2001), MARY POPPINS RETURNS is his sixth feature, and thankfully indicates that he has bottomed out after the abysmal INTO THE WOODS (2014), yet it doesn’t mean that he has completely gets his groove back by marrying Disney’s kaleidoscopic escapism with a hoary template, and chiefly banks on a crop of musical talents to bedazzle audience in this rote rerun, a cross to bear for the vocation of an immortal babysitter: babies grow up, babies have their own babies.
As Marshall humbly shows his reverence to Robert Stevenson’s classic, like his insistence on using the obsolete hand-drawn cel animation to chime in with the prequel (a bedazzling set piece ends up anachronistically jejune in its derivative chasing sequence), Marc Shaiman’s newly minted music also cleaves to the chirpy, witty tonic of the Sherman Brothers, but there is no instant earworms like FEED THE BIRDS or CHIM CJIM CHER-EE. The center piece, TRIP A LITTLE LIGHT FANTASTIC is a triumph of staging (a fog-shrouded London) and choreography but quite nondescript in its message and strains, TURNING TURTLE is a corker not because its tunage, but the laborious production design and Meryl Streep’s funny cameo as Mary’s cousin Topsy, whose provenance is as covert as Poppins’.
That said, the tunes might take its time to grow onto contemporary audience’s collective sensorium, but Blunt connects with viewers immediately with a knack for knowingly blurting token denial of all the fantasies Mary Poppins conjures, but compared to Julie Andrew, doesn’t radiate enough compassion and warmth neither towards her three young wards nor the Banks’ plight (an awkward, zero connection with the grown-up Michael and Jane). Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack, on the contrary, is a down pat heart-warmer and although his vocal register tends to be a tad flat, his fervor is contagious and showmanship is a boon. Both Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer exhibit much needed layers of emotion to retain a toehold on reality, and Colin Firth’s villainous turn is more pettish than sinister, finally, the cameos of Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury (pinch-hitting for Julie Andrews), to certify that both nonagenarians can still carry a tune, and in Van Dyke’s case, his fleet-footedness, are all for nostalgia’s sake.
While it doesn’t manage to outdo its predecessor’s novelty and sincerity (yes, the trite arrangement of an eleventh-hour magic touch is not to this reviewer’s liking, especially when there is a flying nanny available, what is the raison d’être of all the Big Ben ascending hullabaloo?), this retro-serving, koan-indoctrinating revamp, at the very least, is a gorgeous, festive event that doesn’t blot Disney’s trademark and a gesture to reinstate the good name of an old-fashioned Hollywood musical.