‘Mary Poppins Returns’ review: A whimsical, nostalgic spectacle

At the beginning of Mary Poppins Returns, as the camera pans down from the sky and we get our first glimpse of Cherry Lane — the street in London where the Banks family lives — the nostalgia is palpable, almost intoxicating.

From there, the 2018 sequel to the 1964 original film continually delivers shots of reminiscence directly into moviegoers’ veins. Things long forgotten, like a decorative Royal Doulton bowl in the Banks’ children’s room, are recovered from the depths of memory and brought charging to the fore. For the kids of today, Mary Poppins Returns features many fun, catchy songs and segments of animation.

A big caveat, however: the movie might be more of a memorable experience for the adults who grew up watching the original movie.

What do you mean?

This movie follows the story of a grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), whose wife has recently passed away, leaving him with three kids to raise on his own. Sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) visits to help the floundering Michael, who owes money to the bank for a loan. If he doesn’t pay in a few days, the bank will repossess the house.

Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to Cherry Lane to save the day — obviously — and goes on a series of adventures with the Banks children all while teaching moralistic lessons about trying new things, not fearing the unknown or judging books by the cover. It’s almost a note-for-note repeat of the original Mary Poppins structure, and with that comes visual memory triggers and nostalgia overload. It’s a wistful place to be, and unfortunately, a place mostly for adults. (Unless you have a child very familiar with the original.)

How’s Emily Blunt as the new Mary Poppins?

Quite simply, she’s spit-spot-on. I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone else in Hollywood who could’ve done as good a job. She has a beautiful voice, is neither too domineering or dismissive, and captures the essence of the mysterious, magical nanny. There are a few stumbles when it comes to her character within the story, but those have nothing to do with Blunt’s performance.

And Lin-Manuel Miranda?

As Jack, the jovial chimney sweep/narrator-of-sorts, Miranda is his usual charming self. His songs, in particular, are full of zest, so it’s no surprise that Disney puts him front and centre. In some cases, Miranda outshines Blunt, and he’s given so much screen time it’s tough to tell whom we see more: Mary or Jack.

Is the Dick Van Dyke cameo amazing? Are there other surprises for fans?

The appearance of Dick Van Dyke, at age 91, looking spry and delivering lines with ease, is one of the best moments of the movie. There is at least one more big surprise that’ll have you smiling.

So what’s the bottom line?

Perhaps more of a trip for adults who watched the original movie as kids, Mary Poppins Returns manages to please both age groups. Some kids in the theatre were squirming in their seats (the movie runs just over two hours), but for the most part, they were engaged and giggling along the way.

In today’s harsh and oft-crushing world, it felt nice to have a brief escape into song-and-dance, and have someone like Mary Poppins watching over you to make sure everything turns out OK.

‘Mary Poppins Returns’ opens in theatres across Canada on Dec. 19.

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