For some, Mary Poppins is sacred ground, a cherished childhood classic that isn't to be spoiled in any way, shape or form. And while the 1964 classic never held such a holy place in the depths of my heart, I fully recognize the film’s cemented place in history as it continues to hold a renowned allure more than a half century later. Enter Rob Marshall’s newly released sequel, Mary Poppins Returns. As a savvy veteran of bringing musicals to the big screen with films like Chicago, Nine and Into the Woods, Marshall’s big-time resume and familiarity with the genre make him a natural choice to handle the return of cinema’s most iconic au pair, Mary Poppins.
Set in 1930s London, more than two decades have passed since Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw) Banks were whisked away into a world of wonder and imagination as children. Yet, following the recent passing of Michael’s wife, times only get tougher when the bank informs him that he’s violated the terms of a substantial loan and his family’s house will be repossessed in a few days’ time unless he can come up with the money to pay it off in full. Desperate to find a certificate of stock shares that his deceased father left behind, or face eviction with his trio of motherless children, Michael is shocked when Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns offering to once again help the Banks children in their time of need.
Any lavish praise targeted at Rob Marshall’s work must begin with the casting decision of Emily Blunt as the title character. Her beauty, elegance and exceptional singing voice make Blunt the perfect choice to carry on the legacy of Julie Andrews’ signature character. She’s absolutely magnificent in the role and beyond deserving of her early season Golden Globe and SAG nominations. Blunt’s stern attention to detail is on full display as she revitalizes Mary Poppins and all of her inexplicable marvel on the big screen, it truly is a sight to behold. Likewise, Lin-Manuel Miranda puts himself on the map with a fitting performance as Jack, the neighborhood lamp-lighter, who sings and dances his way into your heart as well. Moreover, all three of the new generation of Banks children are wonderful in their own right, and a crowd-pleasing cameo from Angela Lansbury all come together to further illustrate the depths of Rob Marshall’s brilliant cast. However, Mary Poppins Returns suffers in one key area, the film’s overarching story is bone-thin. Cloudy backstories and weakly developed storylines loom over many prominent characters such as Jane, Jack and Wilkins (Colin Firth), making the film more of a magical experience than a finely crafted movie. Mary Poppins Returns is more like a “spoonful of sugar”, delicious and enjoyable but lacking many of the ingredients necessary to make it a fulfilling dish.