“I was flying a kite and got caught on a nanny,” says young George, equally scared that he has upset his father and mystified by such an event. This is also the mood of PL Travers’s Mary Poppins stories, about a nanny with magical powers who brings the innocence and wonder of childhood back into the lives of those she visits.
The sequel returns 25 years after the original film, which starred Julie Andrews as the nanny to siblings Jane and Michael Banks. Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins floats into the lives of Michael Banks (Ben Wishaw) and his family, hanging off a kite.
Mary Poppins brings magic back into the Banks home. After the death of their mother, the three Banks children have had to grow up all too soon, taking on household responsibilities and managing budgets. If there is the Great Depression in the streets of London outside, it’s quite depressing inside the Banks house too.
The children Annabel, John, and Georgie, played by Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson respectively, are adorable. After initial suspicion, they completely submit to Mary Poppins’s unique, colourful, musical and enchanted ways of teaching them valuable and useful life lessons. Along the way, not only does Mary bring childhood back to the children, but also returns hope in the lives of Michael and his doting sister Jane (Emily Mortimer).
Like the original from 1964, director Rob Marshall’s film is also a musical fantasy. Marc Shaiman has composed the music and written lyrics along with Scott Wittman. One misses well-loved tunes such as A Spoonful of Sugar and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Mary’s accomplice is the optimistic and joyous lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda). In the Royal Doulton Music Hall, Mary Poppins and Jack regale the children as they lead a song and dance extravaganza to the tune of A Cover is Not the Book. This tune and Trip a Little Light Fantastic are the only two songs from the extensive soundtrack that are memorable for the composition, production and choreography.
Another letdown is some of the singing parts. As good as Ben Whishaw is as the overwhelmed father, he’s not much of a singer. Neither is Lin-Manuel Miranda, who adopts a clumsy Cockney accent and has to carry a number of centrepiece tunes – except when he trips the light fantastic through London’s foggy streets.
Julie Walters bring her trademark twinkle to the part of Ellen the housekeeper. Meryl Streep shows up as Mary’s aunt Topsy who prides herself on being able to fix anything, and there are delightful cameos by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury.
As Mary Poppins, Emily Blunt lights up the screen, and not just because of her exquisite costumes and singing voice. Blunt finely blends disdain with mischief and empathy with satisfaction, balancing out the story’s syrupiness.
The vibrant production design, costumes and set pieces will shake up even the most jaded and cynical viewer to submit to the fairy-tale world in which nannies float in on kites, umbrellas talk and a dive into a bathtub transports you into a wonderful underwater world.