Twenty-five years after the events of Mary Poppins, Banks children Michael and Jane (Ben Wishaw and Emily Mortimer) are grown up and still living in the old house next to the neighbour from Hell. Together they’re raising Michael’s children following the death of his wife.
Jane has inherited her mother’s political streak but Michael lacks his father’s financial acumen, somehow getting into a situation where the large house he inherited is on the brink of repossession. Maybe it’s time to let the full time housekeeper go.
When Michael unceremoniously discards his old kite and dead mother’s suffragette sash, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) flies in to become the children’s nanny faster than you can say CRB check, apparently guilt-free about the part she played in Michael eschewing sound financial investments. That tuppence could be worth a lot by now.
Creating a sequel to the best family film of all time is an impossible task, and with that in mind Mary Poppins Returns does a decent job. The slightly odd story about the house being repossessed helpfully avoids the same narrative arc of the original, in which Mr Banks learns to have fun with his children, but it does make you wonder if the family would have been better assisted by a practically perfect financial adviser.
Director Rob Marshall has a good go at recreating the magic of the original in spite of some odd choices in the script; the finance-based plot may be lost on children who don’t know what shares or mortgages are. It wisely opts for a hand-drawn animation style in the fantasy sequences rather than following the trend for photo-realistic CGI and it does a good job of updating familiar locations to look like actual London exteriors.
The soundtrack is obviously not as memorable as the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious original, but successfully captures the same old-Hollywood soundscape and will have you tapping along in places. Some of the highlights include a lamplighters’ dance, and a balloon-based song, even if they do feel like updates on the original rather than entirely new sequences.
The film is in definite soft reboot territory, with friendly chimney-sweep Burt being replaced by an equally friendly (and equally un-cockney sounding) lamplighter called Jack (Lin Manuel-Miranda). The supporting cast are decent, including Julie Walters as the Banks housekeeper, Colin Firth as a selfish bank manager and 93-year-old Dick van Dyke in a brief appearance which feels remarkably unforced.
The biggest problem is Blunt’s performance, opting for posh, plummy tones that sound more like an austere Maggie Smith than Andrews’ delightful singing nanny. The original Poppins was certainly well-spoken, but also came across as warm and bright in a way which Blunt never achieves, in spite of looking very much the part. She also can’t match Andrews’ classically trained voice. Perhaps they should have got Lady Gaga instead.
Overall the film does about as well as it was ever going to and is not a total Travers-ty, but it still can’t beat the a-P.L. of the original.