Is “Mary Poppins” worth a Christmas Eve date night? Yes!
This is the sequel to one of the greatest musical comedies of all time. It stars Emily Blunt as the most perfect successor to Julie Andrews imaginable. Co-starring Broadway superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame plays her new sidekick. This features a touching underlying story that serves as the launchpad for non-stop cinematic magic. The perfect movie for a great first, tenth or even 100th date!
Anyone with a decent childhood has seen the original “Mary Poppins.” The 1964 cinematic gem won Julie Andrews an Oscar for playing one of the greatest characters in cinema history. She was a magical nanny who could fly. She brought real-world kids into a cartoon world and could generally turn a bleak world cheery.
“Star Wars” sequels and superhero flicks counting as family-friendly fantasy fun in today’s world. So it’s long overdue for a studio to step up and bring some truly inventive joy to the big screenand Disney has stepped up to the challenge with the fantastic new sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”
A belief in childhood magic that must be restored
Emily Blunt stars as Mary since Andrews is in her eighties now. The new “Poppins” focuses on the two kids whom Mary helped in the original film. Now the brow-beaten and beleaguered Jane and Michael Banks are mired in struggles as adults. Michael has been a widower for the past couple of years. He’s raising three children alone while struggling to get by with a bank teller job supplementing his slowly dying ambitions as an artist. Jane is a labor activist (although the movie thankfully avoids becoming political in any way, shape or form). She’s financially unable to help her brother when his bank serves him a foreclosure notice on his house.
Michael finds himself and his kids in danger of becoming homeless. He’s lost all sense of the exuberant joy Mary Poppins instilled in him as a child. But then his youngest son finds Michael’s old, long-forgotten magical kite that he had flown with Mary as a child. The boy loses it in a windstorm. Then, Mary magically appears to save it and re-enters Michael’s life by insisting on being his children’s nanny.
New talent and technology create old-fashioned movie magic
Dick Van Dyke is over ninety years old. His character of Bert, the singing and dancing chimney sweep, was written out of the movie. Instead, Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack. He’s a lamp-lighter who was an assistant to Bert as a boy. Blunt succeeds in every imaginable way in filling Andrews’ magical shoes as Mary. So too, Miranda brings his live-theater zest and energy to the screen in tremendous fashion.
I don’t want to give away many more details of what happens from there. The film continuously astonished me with its non-stop parade of incredible songs and visual delights. Over fifty years of technological advancements make this movie’s effects even more stunning than the original’s. The Disney team wisely uses hand-drawn animation for large sequences of the film in order to match the look of the original. It’s the first time in nearly fifteen years that Disney has returned to its original format, and the decision is a masterful one.
Toe-tapping tunes will make you want to sing right in the theater
But how are the songs? Utterly amazing as well, thanks for asking. Granted, no one tune is quite up to the legendary “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (yes, that IS how it’s spelled!). But there are many that come close and are nonetheless far ahead of the majority of songs in musicals today.
Bringing it all together is director Rob Marshall, who was Oscar-nominated for his directing on the Best Picture-winning musical “Chicago” back in 2002. That Broadway adaptation single-handedly revived the musical as a viable genre in movies after decades of dormancy, and he pulls off Oscar-worthy magic here with a completely original set of songs and a terrific new story.
Some worried that Disney would screw things up by forcing agenda-driven touches into the story, like “explaining” why the beautiful Mary is single by revealing she’s a lesbian, or having Jack sing songs about being deported. But thankfully, none of that is here– just pure, unabashed joyousness that anyone of any age or political stripe can enjoy. This is an absolute must-see!
Performances: 10 out of 10
Songs and choreography: 10 out of 10
Emotions: 10 out of 10
Magical sense of wonder: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10 out of 10 (and definitely one of the year’s best films!)