From the opening song number of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack, a lamp lighter in depression-era London, ‘Mary Poppin Returns’ is immediately presenting itself as something more than just your ordinary musical. There’s irony here as Jack sings about the ‘Lovely London Sky’ while he takes a bike around London in the early morning turning down all the lamps in the soggy winter streets. The song is cheerful. It’s one of gratitude but everything around Miranda and his infectious smile is a dreary and grey London. There are street kids and unemployment lines on the route that Jack takes that lives side-by-side with the more well-off members of British society.
The stark irony of the song and Jack’s mood is in direct contrast to the world that director Rob Marshall presents to us and it’s a wonderful image that immediately brings to mind a present day world where unrest and anxiety over the future looms overhead.
The film is set in the 30s, right before World War II, but the mood is unmistakably familiar and current.
From this opening scene alone, you knew you were in very good hands for the rest of the two hour and ten minute adventure that lies in wait. For ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is a musical adventure that strikes chord in our modern day times.
This not some mere nostalgia piece. The story is a direct sequel to the original 1964 ‘Mary Poppins’ with Julie Andrews and directed by Robert Stevenson. The Banks children, Jane and Michael, are all grown up now and Michael is left a widower with three children and face losing their house due to a loan that Michael hasn’t been able to pay off.
Michael’s elder children, Anabel and John, are like little grown ups in children’s bodies. They’ve gotten used to the mess of their home without their mother and have matured while the youngest, Georgie, remains a child.
And this is when the magical Mary Poppins flies in from the sky to come and “look after the Banks’ children,” meaning Michael and Jane, including the three kids of Michael. What transpires is a wonderful set of magical occurrences that is set to help Annabel and John reclaim their lost childhood while giving the three children a chance to help their father save the house from being taken by the bank.
I have to admit that I came into the movie not expecting to like it all. I never saw the original ‘Mary Poppins’ and I am not a fan of Rob Marshall’s previous works except for ‘Chicago.’ I only came for Emily Blunt but I was so taken from the very first song number that I enjoyed myself immensely throughout this movie.
The songs are playful and inventive. The use of hand-drawn animation for some of the magical sequences are charming and so appropriate despite my initial fears that it looked clumsy. In fact, it works because deep down inside, Mary Poppins, as the nanny of Michael’s kids, seems driven to bring whimsy and the fantastical back into their lives.
It’s a lovely message in these dark times. It’s not idealistic or unrealistic. Never do they shy away from trying to solve the problem at hand. But with Mary Poppins’ help, they manage to approach this with wonder and joy and fun. On the other hand, Mary Poppins also insists on proper manners and discipline. But with a healthy dose of fun.
And it’s this seamless transition from whimsy to sentimental (at just the right amounts) and between song numbers and quiet little glances that ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ really soars as a film. There are many wonderful bits of lessons that Mary Poppins throws about that seems she is talking to the people of this generation. Things like, ‘There’s too much thinking,” or “We’re on a brink of an adventure, children. Don’t spoil it with questions.”
Emily Blunt is absolutely resplendent as Mary Poppins. This is her movie even with fantastic performances by the children and Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as Michael and Jane Banks, respectively. Blunt is absolutely mystical. She is almost always amused by everything that is happening around her and her effect on people. But she is a proper English lady and never loses her poise. She steps in and out of any situation, magical or mundane, as if everything spins in her control.
I never thought that a role like Mary Poppins would be a shoe-in for an acting nomination but now I understand why Julie Andrews won an Oscar. What a balancing act and Emily Blunt does it so effortlessly.
‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is an absolute musical gem that, just like its titular character, has come when we needed her most. It’s a bright shining light about not giving in to the hardships and to continue fight but not to lose the childlike wonder and joy when we do the things that we do.
'Mary Poppins Returns' opens in Philippine cinemas nationwide on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.