Movie Review: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

by Hunter Johnson

Julie Andrews, the original Mary Poppins, has returned to theaters. She’s in Aquaman.

But I’m not reviewing “Aquaman,” instead I’m taking a look at “Mary Poppins Returns,” with Emily Blunt as the titular character.

From Rob Marshall, director of musicals such as “Chicago” and “Into the Woods,” “Mary Poppins Returns” revives the character that has been in the hearts of families across the world since 1964.

Emily Blunt, having already worked with Marshall in “Into the Woods,” continues to prove her brilliance as an actress as Mary Poppins. She pays tribute to Julie Andrews’ original performance and brings her own flair to the screen.

The film oozes with childlike wonder and magic. From the scene where the characters travel to an animated world reminiscent of classic 1960s Disney films to the scene where Lin-Manuel Miranda does a nostalgic chimney sweep dance, “Mary Poppins Returns” never fails to astonish.

Speaking of Lin-Manuel Miranda, this film is only made better by the presence of the Broadway star and creator of the hit “Hamilton.” His instinctive knack for childlike playfulness complements Emily Blunt’s similarly engaging character. His lack of film work doesn’t inhibit him from bringing his stage presence directly to the fun character of Jack. He’s perfect for the role and he’s perfect for Rob Marshall’s stage-like directing style.

Rob Marshall has always had an innate love for the stage, but he’s one of the few directors that has been able to successfully adapt stage productions into films. Both “Chicago” and “Into the Woods” have a general feeling of a stage show while also taking advantage of technical abilities of film that would otherwise be impossible to incorporate on stage. “Mary Poppins Returns” is no different.

While the original “Mary Poppins” was not a stage show, its large musical numbers and dance sequences were reminiscent to musical theater. For this sequel, Rob Marshall has brought back that stage-like style, with its own brand-new original songs and dance numbers. It all works so wonderfully and acts as a love-letter of sorts to classic musical filmmaking of the 1950s and 60s.

The new original songs feel like classic Disney numbers that have been around for ages. They remind audiences of their childhood, with songs like “A Cover is Not the Book” staying in their heads for weeks, if not months or years.

The film is fantastically cast as a whole with the three Banks children all very-well performed, but a particular standout is Ben Whishaw, playing the now grown-up Michael Banks. In such a busy and fast-paced film, Whishaw gives a well-needed nuanced and heartbreaking performance as the recently widowed and emotionally compromised Michael Banks. His intimate song, “A Conversation,” is the first sign in the film that this is more than just a fun family film. It has real heart and a deeper meaning to it all.

“Mary Poppins Returns” may not be perfect from a critical standpoint—it has a generally predictable plot and it rehashes many sequences from the original film—but at a certain point, a critical viewing of a film doesn’t really matter when it brings pure joy back into audience’s hearts.

This film reminds audiences of why they loved Disney in the first place. It revives the childlike wonder found in classic films like “Lady and the Tramp,” “101 Dalmatians,” and “The Aristocats.” And in an age where films only seem to take place in modern day and filmmakers feel that the only way to relate to kids is by including modern jokes and references to pop culture, it’s refreshing to see a film as timeless as this one.

Hunter Johnson is a sophomore theatre major and an arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. He spends his time acting on stage, reading and watching Star Wars, and occasionally doing homework.

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