Mary Poppins Returns directed by Rob Marshall, Walt Disney Pictures, 2018
Reviewed by Matt Barber
Fifty four years after the original, Mary Poppins Returns is the sequel that has been on the edge of production for decades but that we never thought we’d see. In a cinematic world filled with remakes and reimaginings, this movie is distinctive not only in being a direct sequel, but also in the way it connects with the original both in narrative and stylistic ways. In 1935, the original Banks children are now grown up: Michael Banks is widowed and lives in the family home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane and has three children whilst Jane Banks is a social activist. The family is also in debt and on the verge of being evicted from their house, but Michael and Jane’s old magical nanny arrives just in time for a mixture of domestic sorcery, sardonic advice and animated adventures.
There are a number of moments in Mary Poppins Returns when, even if you haven’t seen the original film from 1964, you still find yourself swept away by waves of nostalgia and bittersweet sentiment. For me, the first moment that hit home was the arrival of Poppins drawn down from the skies on the end of a kite string, the stirringly familiar orchestrated soundtrack hammering home the feeling of watching a treasure unearthed. After this the film is a cavalcade of touching scenes, cameos from original cast members and film legend and retro animation effects.
There are touches of Paddington here (or, to be fair, perhaps touches of the original Poppins in Paddington) with the presence of Ben Whishaw, Julie Walters and Colin Firth (the bear’s original film voice before Whishaw took over). Both films also treat London in the same, mythologised way, a collage of Christmas card Georgian terraces, romantic cobbled streets and blossomy parks. But Poppins Returns eschews the edgy, adult-oriented humour and slapstick for a more traditional and reserved approach. My taste still errs towards the balance of comedy and sensitivity you get with the bear, but I appreciate the more nuanced characterisation and moments of emotional intensity that the sincere approach has blessed Poppins Returns with. A big part of this is Emily Blunt’s magisterial performance as the nanny, squeezing charisma, old-fashioned primness and a strange, unearthly maudlin quality – almost menace – from the character.
It’s refreshing to see a film in the cinema at Christmas that doesn’t feature boy wizards, spaceships, hobbits or America superheroes. Poppins Returns is a touching, nostalgic movie, respectful to the original but with a particular personality that ensures it will grow over time and, hopefully, attract a new generation of film fans.