Possible spoilers ahead!
“Mary Poppins Returns” takes place in London during the Great Depression of the 1930s where Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) are now all grown-ups. Michael is the widowed father of three children: Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson), while Jane is busy with charity work.
Michael however, has been struggling in the wake of his wife’s passing and ends up several months behind on a loan that he took out from Fidelity Fiduciary Bank – the place where his father used to work, and where Michael is currently employed as part-time as a teller.
He took out the loan and accepted the hob when the Depression made it all but impossible for him to continue his career as an artist. Now Michael learns that the bank plans foreclose on his house by the end of the week unless he pays his loan in full, something he bows will not happen. All seems lost until he and Jane remember that their father owned shares in the bank he once worked it. They would be more than enough to cover their expenses. That is if they can find the written proof that the shares exist.
Fortunately, in their hour of need, their former nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), lands back in their lives and quickly takes Michael’s children under her wing while he and Jane try to secure their future. Along with a little help from cheerful lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), the magical nanny does her part to bring some light (and a little magic) back into the Banks’ lives.
If you’ve read My Top 10 Movies of 2018, then you probably already know “Mary Poppins Returns” made the list at number three. There are several reasons why Mary Poppins ranked so high with me, for one thing, “Mary Poppins Returns” honors both the source material and the original Mary Poppins film from 1964. The sequel continues the store that began in 1964 and it does so seamlessly. Not for one second dit I doubt these where the same characters I met before.
“Mary Poppins Returns” moves at a brisk pace, right from the start thanks in no small part to its song and dance numbers, all which are pretty amazing and visually dazzling. All of the new songs feel timeless, almost as if they were written for the first films. The opening number by Lin-Manuel Miranda is done in a way which lets us know what he does for a living, gives us a tour of this corner of London, which all leads to the introduction of the rest of the cast.
I was hooked the minute Lin-Manuel Miranda started singing about life in London, and I didn’t even notice that Mary Poppins wasn’t in the first 15 or so minutes of the film. However, once she lands in London, Emily Blunt knocks it out of the park as Mary Poppins.
Any fears I had of Blunt imitating Julie Andrews went out the window once I realized Emily Blunt put her own spin on the magical nanny. I particularly got a kick from the way the actress used her eyes as much as she did her voice and dancing shoes. Sometimes all it took was a quick look from her to know what was going on in Mary Poppins’ head.
Lin-Manuel Miranda was also great as lovable Jack, and I liked that his character wasn’t there as a love interest for Mary, but just as an old friend. Some of Miranda’s best scenes were alongside Mary and the new generation of Banks children. The crowd in the theater really enjoyed watching him ride his bicycle around while all three kids and Mary tagged along. I also thought Miranda had great chemistry with Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), and their few scenes together were very nice.
Speaking of the Banks, “Mary Poppins Returns” offers a fresh take of the dynamic within the Banks family. This time out, the kids are the more practical ones as they’ve had to do a lot of growing up since their mother died. In more than one occasion, Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson) are the level-headed ones, and I liked how Mary Poppins allowed thinking for themselves. Even when they are forced to deal with some new real challenges, the three kids take it all in stride. The three siblings even work out problems before taking action, even if the results aren’t always ideal.
Meanwhile, the elder Banks (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), get some nice moments to themselves. There is one scene early on where the two go their father’s old office, and I really felt like the two were brother and sister. The two are always there for each other, and she wants to help any way she can. When Jane finds out about the loan, she isn’t angry with Michael, instead, she gets right to work to help find the share certificate.
The core cast is terrific but the supporting cast got lost sometimes. The audience really enjoyed Julie Walters as the Banks’ steadfast housekeeper Ellen, but after a terrific opening scene, she didn’t get much more to do. Then we got Meryl Streep as Mary’s offbeat cousin Topsy, who was there well, for no particularly good reason. Streep’s scene could easily have been cut from the film, and nothing about the mains tory would have changed.
Colin Firth appears as the cartoonishly wicked bank president, William “Weatherall” Wilkins, and that’s about it. He really doesn’t do much, and we never see him out of the office. But I can forgive this because the filmmakers likely wanted to focus on Mary Poppins and the Banks family. There are a couple of other cameos in the film and the audience really seemed to enjoy, regardless of how short they were. And can I just say it’s amazing to see Angela Lansbury still working? That woman was old when I was a kid for crying out loud!
The only thing I had a problem with was the way “Mary Poppins Returns” dealt with Bert. It’s done early on when Mary Poppins first arrives in London. She asks Jack how old Bert is doing, and Jack gives a simple answer. It’s not nearly as bad as what “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” did with Meryl Streep, but considering you already got Dick Van Dyke on set, why not shoot a quick little reunion between Mary Poppins and old Bert?
Nevertheless, despite dealing with some serious issues, “Mary Poppins Returns” was a joyful return to the world of Mary Poppins and friends. This movie was the perfect way to end the year, as it provides some welcome cheer from everything going on in the real world. When I left the theater I felt happy and hopeful. To me that makes “Mary Poppins Returns” worthy of being my number three favorite movie of the year, and one I plan on seeing again!
“Mary Poppins Returns” score: A-