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American films

Mary Poppins Returns film review: Emily Blunt is luminous in enchanting sequel to Disney’s 1964 classic

  • Director Rob Marshall shows guts to bring back the popular Disney character played memorably by Julie Andrews in the 1964 original
  • It’s a chance for children (and adults) to fall in love with the adorable nanny all over again
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 6:01pm

4.5/5 stars

Attempting a sequel to a beloved classic is dangerous territory, especially when it’s Disney’s Mary Poppins . The 1964 film, starring Julie Andrews as the magical nanny from the books by P.L. Travers, is an evergreen children’s film. So credit Rob Marshall for having the guts to bring the character back. He is, admittedly, tailor-made for it with such lavish movie musicals as Chicago and Into the Woods on his CV.

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The director plunders Emily Blunt from the latter to play Mary Poppins and she could not be more perfect. Inhabiting the no-nonsense nanny quite brilliantly, Blunt is a luminous presence, although she never dominates in a smart story that gives everyone their moment. Dressed in bright blue, Mary arrives tethered to a kite (how else?) just as the Banks family are in trouble.

Here, Michael (Ben Whishaw) – who was a child when Mary Poppins last appeared – is a recent widower with three children, Anabel, John and Georgie. Despite his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) helping out, he is in debt to the bank where he works as a teller – and if he doesn’t find the money in just a few days he will lose the family home.

While Michael and Jane are desperately hunting for a certificate belonging to their father that denotes shares in the bank – now run by Colin Firth’s duplicitous manager – the children are otherwise occupied with Mary’s surprise arrival. “Everything is possible – even the impossible,” she trills, as she takes them on some crazed adventures, from a trip down the bathtub to a visit to her upside-down cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep).

Marshall pays homage to the original on numerous occasions, including one remarkable sequence blending live-action and hand-drawn animation as Mary and the kids find themselves in the world depicted on a porcelain Royal Doulton bowl. The songs, written by Marc Shaiman, are a delight, even if there isn’t anything quite as memorable as the Oscar-winning Chim Chim Cher-ee from the original.

Aside from the imperious Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda is superb as Jack, the chimney sweep who loves bursting into song (in a nod, of course, to the role played by Dick Van Dyke, who makes a very special cameo here). With costumes by Sandy Powell and fairy tale design by John Myhre, this is nothing short of enchanting. Children (and adults) will fall in love with Mary Poppins all over again.

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