By Marc S. Sanders
PL Travers’ character Mary Poppins is synonymous with the flavor of Disney. You may visit a Disney Theme Park or Cruise Ship or watch a classic film, and you might think to yourself this sidewalk, this room, this cast member’s uniform appears like something out of Mary Poppins. Walt Disney Studios and all its products would be something entirely different without the exactness of the most popular nanny in film. Ironically, until now, since 1964, has there been only one Mary Poppins film…and, well one PL Travers biography.
Director Rob Marshall (Oscar winning director of Chicago) has been recruited to bring the magical character back complete with her bottomless bag and her umbrella in Mary Poppins Returns. Perfectly cast is Emily Blunt in the role. Because this new installment that jumps to the next generation of Banks children is not a franchise reinvention, Blunt beautifully carries on the rigid mannerisms and casual magic that Julie Andrews effortlessly brought to the part. Blunt is not mimicking Andrews however. I think she takes the purpose of Mary more seriously actually. Andrews would smile at the fantasy. Blunt responds as if animated dog carriage drivers are seemingly normal. I also detected another dimension of maybe sadness or melancholy from Blunt as she observes the anguish of the children’s father Michael (Ben Whishaw, a great performer) now all grown up and reluctant to accept fantasy as a means to save the Banks’ home from foreclosure. When this Mary Poppins has to depart this family at the end, for a moment, I felt like she didn’t want to, like she needed this family as much as they needed her; not something I got from the first installment. Alas, this is 2018 and people are more attuned to the harshness of the world. Maybe Mary Poppins is as well.
Lin-Manuel Miranda adopts a cockney accent and fills the role of Jack, a street lamp vendor, all too familiar with Mary. What Dick Van Dyke brought to the original, as Bert, the chimney sweep, Jack offers to this film. Miranda is great. The best musical performer of the last five years (Hamilton, In The Heights). He opens the film with the whimsical new song “Under The Lovely London Sky” and Marshall and company make sure the audience catches on quick. It’s not “Chim Chim Cheree” but it’s a fun tune that provides a little mystery to the legendary nanny and the goings on at Cherry Tree Lane. Miranda is the only one I can think of to play this role today. Ten or fifteen years ago, it might have been a younger Hugh Jackman.
Cameo appearances abound from Meryl Streep showing another side of her not seen before as a gypsy like cousin of Mary’s, Angela Lansbury, so fortunate she is still performing, and best of all Dick Van Dyke who can still provide a little tap and two step in his spring.
Amidst an entirely new and well versed soundtrack that feels comfortably familiar, the film includes imaginative scenes like diving into an ocean through the bathtub, spinning into the animated (CLASSIC ANIMATION) world of a priceless porcelain bowl and soaring into the sky with a balloon that is just right for you. These are great scenes because they are so silly but Emily Blunt as Mary encourages you to take all this fantasy seriously. “Everything is possible,” she says. “Even the impossible.”
Walt Disney felt that way too. So without Mickey Mouse or Mary Poppins, there really is no institution called Disney. With these brands however, they are all practically perfect in every way.