Movie Review: MARY POPPINS RETURNS (2018)

MARY POPPINS RETURNS is the latest film from director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and is a follow-up sequel to the 1964 smash hit, Mary Poppins, which takes place approximately 25 years later. The film stars Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl), and Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), with cameos from Angela Lansbury (Beauty and the Beast), and Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins).

MARY POPPINS RETURNS centers on the now-grown Banks’ family, who have found themselves in a rather precarious situation when Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) learns that his house will be repossessed by the bank if he doesn’t pay off a loan he took out after his wife passed away. Scrambling to make ends meet, and trying to protect his kids from the news, Michael, and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), receive a shock of a lifetime when they are visited by their former extraordinary nanny, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt). Mary Poppins, along with her friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), assist in helping the Banks’ family rediscover the joy, love, and magic that is missing from their lives.

I’m going to be real with you guys, I’m not the biggest Mary Poppins fan, and when this film was announced I truly wasn’t all that excited. My boyfriend, on the other hand, was beyond stoked and kept promising me that I was going to love it. As we sat in the sold-out screening, I did my best to prepare for 2+ hours of sugary sweet Mary Poppins with the hopes that I would enjoy some of it. Well, do I have a surprise for you, because not only did I love the film, but MARY POPPINS RETURNS is the very definition of magical and whimsical. For a sequel to one of the most beloved Disney films of all times, Rob Marshall knocked it out of the park.

Let’s start things off by talking about Emily Blunt, who not only blew away horror fans in this year’s terrifying film, A Quiet Place, but she also perfectly embodies Mary Poppins, so much so that it’s actually quite scary. A part of me feels bad for saying she steals the show, as all the other performances were just as wonderful, but MARY POPPINS RETURNS is truly Blunt’s show and she carries the film from the moment she appears on screen to the very end. Being one of three people in the world who hasn’t seen Hamilton, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance but I now understand what all the buzz is about. When he sings, it’s electrifying and from the soul, making it obvious why he has such an incredibly passionate fanbase. Ben Whishaw has the perfect amount of sad puppy dog eyes which lends itself entirely to his portrayal of a struggling father trying to provide for his kids. Speaking of the children, as someone who isn’t a huge kid person, I rather quite liked the the Banks children, who were played by Pixie Davies (Anabel), Nathanael Saleh (John), and Joel Dawson (Georgie). I do think there should have been more screen time for Jane, played by Emily Mortimer, as she was quickly brushed to the side and felt more like a last minute accessory rather than a character that was pivotal to the story.

As far the performances go, they were absolutely jaw-dropping. Two of my favorites included a duet between Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda in which they sang a vaudeville style song surrounded by 2D animation and hand-painted outfits (which were to DIE for). The other performance was mainly focused on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s character, and his legion of lamplighters, as they help pave the way through the fog of London so that the children, and Mary Poppins, could get home safely. I can’t write this review without mentioning Dick Van Dyke’s cameo, and though I don’t want to give anything anyway, I will say it’s the purest thing in the entire world and if you walk away from this film not loving his performance than you truly have no soul.

Though the film is mainly filled with musical numbers, beautiful costumes, happiness, rainbows, balloons, and joy, there were some moments that incorporated a darker edge to them. This mainly comes in the form of Colin Firth’s character, Mr. Wilkins, the president of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. Then there’s the thrilling animated chase scene through a dark forest that will make all the horror loving fans squeal with delight! I really hope that Disney makes that scene into one of their dark rides because it would fit in snugly with their Snow White Scary Adventures ride! Then you have the themes that surround the family as they struggle financially while cutting corners so that there is food on the table. These moments, albeit brief, gave the film a much more grounded layer against all the whimsical performances.

With all that said, MARY POPPINS RETURNS is near perfect in every way. It’s a film filled with wonder, amusement, and hope while still dealing with the struggles that most people face on a day-to-day basis. Emily Blunt has become the new Mary Poppins of our generation and she’s undoubtedly earned that title with her performance. This movie may not be filled with horror but I think fans of the genre will enjoy the small moments of villainous scheming. With MARY POPPINS RETURNS arriving in theaters next Wednesday, December 19, you can bet that it’ll be the feel-good film of the year and one that you will want to share with your loved ones during the Christmas season.

Shannon McGrew
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