If you’re looking for a joyful holiday movie to see with your family, look no further than Mary Poppins Returns, directed by Rob Marshall. It retains all of the innocent wonder of its predecessor while adding a little sass of its own in the form of its lead, the titular Mary Poppins, played by Emily Blunt. Although it is technically a sequel, it feels more like an homage to the original, mirroring the songs and themes of the beloved classic. It is a nod to its past but paves the way for a new generation. It does maintain a rather formulaic structure, but the music and charm of its characters will certainly bring a smile to your face.
Set 25 years after the events of the original, Mary Poppins Returns focuses on the family of Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer). Michael’s wife is no longer alive, and he struggles to balance work with raising his children. Since their childhood experiences with Mary Poppins, he and his sister both seem to have lost their imagination and wonder for life, which is reflected in Michael’s children. Since their mother died, they take a great deal of responsibility for themselves and appear to act quite old for their age, offering to make phone calls and retrieve the groceries for their family. When the Banks fall behind on their mortgage and are unable to continue paying for their house, the children step up to help their father. Things seem rather bleak, but this all changes when Mary Poppins appears right on time. She confidently strides back into the house she visited many years before, with the same knowing smile, though perhaps with a little more snark. With the help of her friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and a visit to her cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), Mary strives to teach the children to embrace their childhood imaginations.
Blunt and Miranda are, without a doubt, the stars of the show. They steal every scene and provide the perfect balance of capturing the feel of Julie Andrews’ Poppins and Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, respectively, while also bringing their own sparks to the roles. The supporting cast, including Julie Walters, Colin Firth as the villain, and special appearances from Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke, is incredibly strong and all work together to create a quite lovable band of misfits. Every performance feels quite genuine in its emotion—Van Dyke’s appearance is especially moving for fans of the original, and it is difficult not to get a little choked up watching it.
The music is a modern reflection on the original songs, although perhaps not as iconic—but how can anything truly capture the magic of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”? Neither Blunt nor Miranda are newcomers to the musical scene, and the stand-out performances are the ones that allow them to shine. In particular, easily the most memorable scene is “A Cover Is Not the Book”, in which Blunt and Miranda together are able to truly take the stage with the gusto of the performers they are. This serves as a great example of when the musical homages to the original succeed. However, there are several other songs that seem to try so hard to mimic the original that they don’t totally work in this version. Those moments are easy to forget, fortunately, among the lively dance numbers and bright colors that fill this film with wonder.
A star-studded cast gives life to a film that could have easily fallen flat. Simply utilizing audience’s nostalgia does not inherently make something good, yet Blunt’s take on Poppins together with charming songs that recognize what we loved about the original make this film a delightful ride down memory lane. The only real misstep is that it fails to build upon its source material and gain its own originality’ it does suffer from predictability. It is important to realize, however, that it was not created with the intention of being completely different from the original—it was created with a new, younger generation in mind. It was not intended to be something wholly different and unique, as it is simultaneously a sequel and a sort of remake. What it strives to do is capture the same joy as the original for a new generation, and that is why this film works. Although it doesn’t seek to break away from the mold, that ultimately doesn’t really matter—it is a great reminder of everything we loved about Mary Poppins growing up and will leave you feeling quite warm and fuzzy as you leave the theater.