What’s the premise?
Mary Poppins, the 1964 classic starring Julia Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, was thought of by Walt Disney as his masterpiece. And while the saying goes that you can’t improve on perfection, director Rob Marshall (the man behind Chicago) has taken on Mary Poppins Returns, the latest Disney film to get a movie makeover. Having seen impressive things with 2015’s Cinderella, 2016’s The Jungle Book and 2017’s Beauty & The Beast, to say we’re looking forward to holing up in a cinema over Christmas to catch ‘Poppins Part Two’ is something of an understatement.
Using author P.L. Travers’ original books as inspiration, the new film sees us return to London, where it’s now the 1930s. Now an adult with three children, bank teller Michael Banks (Ben Wishaw) learns that his house – the very same one on Cherry Tree Lane – will be repossessed in five days unless he can pay back a loan. His only hope is to find a missing certificate that shows proof of valuable shares that his father left him years earlier. Just as all seems lost, Michael and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) receive the surprise of a lifetime when Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) – the beloved nanny from their childhood – arrives to rekindle the fun and wonder missing from their lives.
Alongside familiar characters and animated scenes (yes, those penguins make a reappearance), Marshall has made sure to include a singalong soundtrack. The new score has been written by lyricist Scott Wittman and composer Marc Shaiman, the team behind megahit Hairspray. Given the recent successes of The Greatest Showman, A Star Is Born and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, it’s clear that audiences’ appetite for musicals shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
First up, Emily Blunt (Girl On The Train, The Devil Wears Prada) stars as the eponymous, enigmatic Mary. Playing a sterner version of the character (in keeping with the books), in most critiques of the film Blunt has been hailed as a more-than worthy lead. Given that Julie Andrews won an Oscar for her performance, the stakes were high – but the ever-brilliant Blunt has risen to the task, making the role her own along the way.
The film’s all-star cast includes appearances from Colin Firth (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pride & Prejudice) as a greedy banker, Julie Walters (Mamma Mia!, Billy Elliot) as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen and Meryl Streep (a fellow The Devil Wears Prada alumni) as Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy. Elsewhere, the Banks children are played by Ben Whishaw (Paddington, Skyfall) as the widowed Michael, while his activist older sister Jane is played by Emily Mortimer (Notting Hill, Shutter Island). But all acclaim must go to Lin-Manuel Miranda, as lamplighter Jack. In this starring role, the Hamilton creator brings lightness, humour – and rapping – to this family friendly hit.
A special mention must also go to Dick Van Dyke (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Van Dyke’s ‘mockney’ accent and cheeky one-liners made him the original film’s most memorable character. Keep an eye out for the 91-year-old towards the end of Mary Poppins Returns, where he plays a kindly banker. Another cameo is made by Disney royalty Angela Lansbury (Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Beauty & The Beast). In a role reportedly meant for Julie Andrews, Lansbury plays a balloon lady – and has a song of her own, too.
What are critics saying?
The Telegraph's Robbie Collin called it "practically perfect in every way" in his five-star rave review, while Empire's Olly Richards said “Against all the odds, this is a very worthy follow-up to the original movie. Blunt is pitch-perfect, as ever, in a film that all but insists you leave with a smile slapped on your face.”
Across the board, Blunt has received positive reviews for her turn as the famous nanny, with Rolling Stone saying “Blunt, all drollness and dazzle, adds needed spice to the movie’s heaping spoonfuls of sugar.”
Elsewhere, Variety claims Mary Poppins Returns is “a bona fide best picture Oscar player this year”. Given that the film has already garnered two nominations for ‘best original song’, we’re looking forward to seeing if this magic-filled reboot will make the Oscars ‘best picture’ shortlist when its announced next month.
Mary Poppins Returns hits cinemas on 21st December