At the news of any reboot, there seems to be an audible sigh from the internet and film goers in general. Even those most prone to nostalgia are at first reluctant. Of course, it’s the final product that should be considered in all cases, and in this case, Mary Poppins Returns will turn even the most cynical of viewers around.
It’s not the most inspired sequel in terms of direction – it hits a lot of the same notes as the original – but instead of feeling like a cash grab, the film is lively and adventurous, complete with wonderful new songs, an amazing turn for Emily Blunt. For all its redundancies it hits the mark as a layered and meaningful story about loss.
Emily Blunt is key to this success, embodying the spirit of Mary Poppins perfectly. While the moments leading up to her appearance are serviceable, it’s not until she flies in on a kite and starts ordering the Banks children about that she provides a comforting presence to the film. No matter the hardships of the Banks family this time around — they’re about to lose their family home, a year after Michael’s (Ben Whishaw) wife passes away — it’s clear, once Mary Poppins returns, that everything, even the film itself, will be okay.
As the three new Banks children — Anabel, John, and Georgie — fight against the notion that they need a nanny, their quick acceptance of the wonder Mary Poppins brings is great to watch unfold. Even still, the sadness that can be forgotten when suddenly plopped into animated adventures and underwater journeys isn’t easily left behind. The children often talk about their mother and work together to help their father keep their home. The emotional catharsis comes in the form of a song titled “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” first started by Mary Poppins but brought to fruition as the kids join in the song as well.
Loss is present not just in the absence of the children’s mother, but in Michael and Jane’s (Emily Mortimer) inability to remember their adventures with Mary Poppins when they were children. They remember her being their nanny, and upon seeing her again, seem to realize a loss of childhood innocence when she departed all those years ago, but it takes the majority of the film to regain it. Even as Michael’s children regale them with their own exploits, Michael doesn’t reclaim that innocence until it’s almost time for Mary to leave again. Mary says to the neighborhood balloon lady, who also mysteriously possesses a bit of magic herself, that the adults will forget come morning, but it’s reassuring to know there’s always a chance of remembering.
There’s fun to be had too. In particular, the animated sequences are updated with new songs and the same thrill of adventure. Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a blue-collar lamplighter, very similar to Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, complete with cockney accent, provides some of the more wholesome moments of the film. His friendship with Mary Poppins is genuine, and the motif of lighted streets continues the notion of always being able to find your home. The number with the rest of the leeries is very reminiscent of the number with the chimney sweepers in the original, but still very much enjoyable.
Mary Poppins Returns is not unlike welcoming back an old friend, not realizing how long it’s been since you’ve seen them. While nothing could out-do the original film, this sequel doesn’t undermine it, and can exist along side it as a successful return to the magic that seems drawn to Cherry Tree Lane.