“Mary Poppins Returns”… Practically perfect, all over again!
Mary Poppins is special. Besides being one of the most admirable Disney characters, Mary has also made our childhoods vivid. Name a child who wouldn’t like the magical nanny who entered paintings and flew mid-air with that umbrella of hers. When I watched the ‘60s classic sometime in the ‘90s, the graphics and the live animation did not look dated. Having viewed it multiple times in the subsequent years, I always had it in the back of my mind that Mary should return for me, if not for the Banks children. And when she finally marks a comeback with Mary Poppins Returns directed by Rob Marshall, does the grown-up in me embrace the lady with as much warmth? Well, absolutely, I say.
This time around, an all-new Mary Poppins (a wonderfully domineering Emily Blunt) revisits the Banks household. The setting is that of the Great Depression. (Why do they call it the Slump? Because it rhymes with Trump? Well, whatever.) Nothing has changed in and around the Banks’ home. The siblings Micheal (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) have grown up and they live with the former’s young children – Georgie, John and Annabelle at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London. The cannon fire still causes a semi-earthquake in their home whereas the pathways and the gardens are precisely the same. So is the story pattern – except that there is a twist in perspectives. The prequel could always have been seen through a different prism if we believed the reason for Mary’s arrival was to save Mr Banks. (Never mind the 2013 film around the same trope). Mary Poppins Returns literalizes this possibility. She arrives to save Banks Senior, now a bank teller. It is only incidental that the children of the house are extremely accommodating and far from being demanding miscreants – which was also somewhat the case with the ones in the first edition.
The credulous Mr Banks is not an aristocrat. Presently in debt, his ancestral home is about to be seized by the devious bank personnel, William (Colin Firth). He has been given a short deadline before which he needs to find out ways to repay the loan. The challenge now is to find the decades-old share papers that the duo’s deceased father had left in their names. Will Mary do the needful?
Before we look at the highs, let me tell you that the music – even though greatly functional – lacks an essential earworm. “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” might be a worthy successor to “It’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Chim Chim Cheree” but they will not have you humming along. The climactic number “Nowhere to Go But Up” is the pick of the lot and more so as it contains nuggets from the prequel’s musical numbers. Having said that, a necessary dash of sizzle is amiss in the soundtrack. When Mary, Bert and the children had a delightful date with Uncle Albert back in the day, the elderly man’s skills to float in the air was amusing from the word go. However, when it comes to Mary visiting her eccentric cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep with a Russian accent) to fix an ornate bowl of the family, the episode looks disconnected from the rest of the film. It also doesn’t help that the character is all quirky and less warm, unlike Uncle Albert, making it difficult to subscribe to her ways.
Back to more pleasant things, Mary Poppins still has her tricks in place. She uses them judiciously. When she and the Banks children take a dip into the tub, to swim across the oceans, the film not only ups the nostalgia quotient but also pays a fitting tribute to the Julie Andrews original. If the most riveting episode in the latter was that of Mary, Bert and the children entering a painting, this time around, the gang in the new edition gets their fantasies fulfilled via a broken bowl. Trust me, the rapture was just as effective and dreamlike, as it was in the first part. The plus point, as always, is that the writers and the animators do not get the luxury to over-utilize Mary’s said powers. The musical elements in the story are decidedly meant to overpower the fantasy bits, which is perfectly alright.
The principal cast led by an able, edgy Blunt does a wonderful job in bringing alive the world in and around the Banks household. Lin-Manual Miranda (also the music composer) is delightful as Jack and I absolutely dished his little love story with Jane Banks, who is now a campaigner for workers’ rights. A welcome surprise comes in the end with Dick Van Dyke making a fantastic cameo, solving all miseries in a jiffy – which I am sure will be lapped up by children, the primary target audience. The only thing that is left is a thought whether the late author P. L. Travers would have approved of the film, something she did not with the Julie Andrews version. Well, well…
Rating: ★★★ 1/2