Mary Poppins Returns to theaters after an astonishing fifty-four year absence. I am pleased to report that lightning does indeed strike twice. This Disney sequel is a joy to behold, a beautiful, and magically uplifting film. Much like Mary Poppins parts the clouds and floats down on a ray of sunshine, the message delivered is of hope in the darkest times. Director Rob Marshall truly recaptures the glory of the original, while telling a new story that delights on its own merits.
Set in London during the Great Depression, tragedy has befallen the Banks family. Michael (Ben Whishaw) is struggling to deal with his wife's recent death. His precocious three young children, Annabelle (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson), desperately try to lift their father's spirit. Jane (Emily Mortimer) is a stalwart rock for her brother, also championing the rights of impoverished laborers. Just when life couldn't seem any worse, the bank issues an eviction notice for their treasured home.
Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns in the nick of time. Michael and Jane are stunned their nanny hasn't aged a day. She sweeps into their lives like a breath of fresh air. Taking the children on fantastical adventures with the neighborhood lamplighter, Jack (Lin Manuel-Miranda). Mary's infectious spirit rekindles hope in the family. They realize that no matter what happens, the family will always be together.
Emily Blunt gives an Oscar worthy performance. She's had a stellar career so far, but her turn as Mary Poppins is transcendent. This is an incredible achievement. Julie Andrews is a legend. Children for decades have grown up watching her as Mary Poppins. Emily Blunt is not doing a Julie Andrews impersonation. She makes the character her own. Mary Poppins has a twinkle in her eyes, bounce in her step, and a trustworthy disposition that gives comfort to all. Couple that with Blunt's formidable talent as a dancer and singer. Audiences are going to love her, gasp, as much as they did Julie Andrews. She really is that good.
The production team behind Mary Poppins Returns understood the original's formula. The mix of fantasy, music, and dance fuels the positive message of the story. Imagination lifts the spirit, the script by David Magee gives hope and kindness no matter the circumstance. Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods) takes his tremendous skill as a choreographer and director to new heights. He's made a grand, lustrous film. The songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman will have you dancing in your seats. Once again, treading on the hallowed ground of the venerable Sherman Brothers, who scored the original as well as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book is a risky proposition. Shaiman and Wittman, much like Emily Blunt, give their own spin on the music. Their work is positively brilliant. From Lin Manuel-Miranda's opening theme, "Underneath the London Sky", the film hooks you and never lets go.
The acting, songs, and choreography are going to get the lion's share of publicity, but I have to give props to the production designer (John Myhre), cinematographer (Dion Beebe), costume designer (Sandy Powell), and special effects team. Mary Poppins Returns looks amazing. Depression era London is juxtaposed by the bright and colorful magical nanny. From underwater to rooftops, every setting is a marvel. The animation scenes had children in my theater spellbound. Mary Poppins Returns will be a frontrunner for every technical award.
Walt Disney Pictures has a new classic for the twenty-first century. Mary Poppins Returns will be just as beloved as the original. Rob Marshall needs to take a victory lap. He's brought Mary Poppins back and better than ever. P.L. Traver's wrote eight Mary Poppins novels. Emily Blunt can whisk us away on adventures for years to come.