Thu, 03 Jan 2019
Mary Poppins Returns (U)
Running time 2hr 10min
THE sheer technicolour whimsy of 1964’s Mary Poppins is such that one could easily envisage a self-ironic reboot, keeping the original’s groundbreaking visuals while eschewing its peaches-and-rainbows buoyancy in favour of a trendy postmodern cynicism. Here was a film set in 1910, with the storm clouds of the Great War on the horizon; its London, though impossibly
idyllic by any modern standard, was no stranger to tumult and injustice (witness Glynis Johns’ suffragette mother, or the detour of the Banks children to the slums of the East End).
Remarkably, then, Mary Poppins Returns does THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what you’d expect a belated sequel-cum-reimagining to do, sticking devoutly to the family recipe; even the musical numbers are ‘merely’ new interpretations of old favourites (which was, admittedly, a given with any new movie – every 8-year-old knows these songs, and there’s no point fixin’ what ain’t broke). As in the first Poppins, the action takes place in a fantasy Britain overshadowed by crisis (namely, between the Depression and the Second World War). A widowed, grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw, whose moustache and pretty-boy aesthetic more than lends him to the role) is struggling to raise three kids of his own, with the bank due to repossess his house. In flies Mary (Emily Blunt) to help inject some magic back into the family’s life. Following in Julie Andrews’ footsteps must have appeared a daunting task; daringly, Blunt doubles down on everything that made her predecessor a star,
adopting an outrageous accent and a stick-figure, faux-aristocratic demeanour that flirts with outright parody. Disney has shown a definite tendency towards reinvention of late (see the endless live-action remakes of cherished cartoons, from Beauty and the Beast to The Jungle Book), and this (frequently navel-gazing) affinity with the studio’s past finds its apotheosis here in sumptuous animated sections ripped straight from the original. Happily, it works – Blunt’s larger-than-life persona is fully in keeping with the film’s nostalgic spirit and she’s able to get away with far more than any other performer could in her position.
Regrettably, Dick Van Dyke’s chimneysweep – a character so beloved as to give Mary a run for her money – doesn’t get a look-in here. Filling his boots is lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), whose musical gusto and discipline does much to compensate for his struggling with a Lahndaan accent. The film very much functions as a mega-budget tribute to the original, which isn’t to say that it’s a carbon copy – there are moments of ingenuity and technical oomph (including an undersea song-and-dance sequence that’s the wondrous envy of Aquaman).
Though it’s a most accessible Chrimbo picture, Mary Poppins Returns will play best to those with heady childhood memories of the first film – or, even better, those immersed in musical cinema, who will marvel at the creators’ keen appreciation of the genre’s conventions and nuances). It’s a project in the same eccentric vein as the Nanny McPhee movies, somewhere between savvy pastiche and tweed-addled self-indulgence; those who demand pessimism and introspection of their family flicks will be sorely disappointed, but, in this most open-hearted of seasons, the film is bound to find a loving audience.