“Mary Poppins Returns” modernizes a classic but captures its original spirit

“Mary Poppins Returns,” the highly anticipated sequel to the 1964 Disney classic premiered on Dec. 19, 2018 and features Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, and more. The plot of “Mary Poppins Returns” incorporates a theme similar to the original; Ben Whishaw plays a now grown-up Michael Banks, a widower who has young kids of his own. When Michael learns that the Banks’ family home is about to be repossessed, he must prove ownership of his father’s bank shares to reclaim the house. His sister, Jane, played by a bubbly Emily Mortimer, helps him along the way. While the adults scramble to find the bank shares certificate, Mary Poppins arrives to watch over the children, and takes them on a few adventures, too.

Photo courtesy of Flickr under Creative Commons.
It’s no small feat to fill the shoes of the original Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews, but Emily Blunt manages quite capably in “Mary Poppins Returns.”

While some might be disappointed that the sequel excludes the most well-known songs from the original, such as “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and more, the film still conveys the spirit of “Mary Poppins” through the detailed costumes, set design, and familiar characters. A few of the new songs, such as “A Cover Is Not the Book,” “The Place Where Lost Things Go,”  “Nowhere to Go But Up” and “Can You Imagine That?” have positive messages that are heartwarming to watch and still capture the joyful theme of the original movie.

Another aspect in particular that stands out about “Mary Poppins Returns” is Dick Van Dyke’s cameo as Mr. Dawes Jr., the son of the bank director Mr. Dawes Sr. from the original film. Van Dyke, who is now 93, manages to execute a spontaneous dance atop a table at the end of the film. In the original “Mary Poppins”, Van Dyke played the lively chimney sweep, Bert. The reappearance of Van Dyke might not hit home with young viewers, but adults will surely recognize the character.

In “Mary Poppins Returns,” the entire chimney sweep theme is replaced by lamplighters, or “leeries,” who lurk in the shadows, polishing and lighting street lamps in syncopated harmony. Lin-Manuel Miranda  is perfectly cast as the cheerful, charming leerie named Jack, who shows Mary Poppins and the Banks children around London. Miranda is very well known for creating Broadway phenomenon, “Hamilton,” and his Tony award-winning role as Alexander Hamilton. In “Mary Poppins Returns,” Miranda proves that he can shine on the screen as well as the stage, and his talent and musicality is evident when he sings “Underneath the Lovely London Sky” in the beginning of the film while skirting around downtown London on a rickety bike.

It’s no small feat to fill the shoes of the original Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews, but Emily Blunt manages quite capably. Blunt’s delightful personality and impeccable singing voice is highlighted in this role. Despite some critical reviews, this film contains numerous entertaining scenes, and characters who will undoubtedly make you smile. While some critics have pointed out negative aspects of the film, the goal of “Mary Poppins Returns” is not to merely replicate the original “Mary Poppins,” but rather to honor the well-loved household favorite, and offer a fresh glimpse into the world of the Banks family.