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  Mary Poppins Returns Nanny Knows Best
Year: 2018
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Meryl Streep, Jeremy Swift, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Chris O'Dowd, Mark Addy
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Drama, Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Many years ago, when Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) were children, they were visited by someone who made everything all right for them, and improved their childhood immeasurably. But now they are grown, and Michael has a family of his own, or at least he used to, as his wife passed away a year ago, leaving him with two sons (Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson) and a daughter (Pixie Davies) to bring up alone. Jane does her best to help, and there is the housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters), but the situation is getting out of hand, for a notice of eviction has been placed on their front door. The family have five days until they're thrown out...

Well, that doesn't sound like a particularly cheerful premise for a Mary Poppins film, but we only had the Disney movie from 1964 to judge by, and that was over two hours of utter delight. The books by P.L. Travers certainly had their dark side as she was a stern woman, but it is the film, much to her chagrin, that many remember, and no wonder with its enchanting colours, bright playing and especially those unbeatable songs. Unsurprisingly, Disney had wanted a sequel almost immediately, but Travers was so horrified at what they had done (made it accessible, basically) that she denied them the rights to follow it up. Which was why we never saw Julie Andrews play Poppins again.

Fast forward fifty-four years, and development hell was a thing of the past, as Emily Blunt was a perfect choice to revive the role, maybe closer to the source material than Andrews had been. However, this counted as one of Disney's remakes, or at least revisits, to their classic properties, and there were not really any of those that supplanted their originals, they were highly polished and used the latest technology to draw in the new, young audience, but as Mary Poppins Returns demonstrated, they did not elicit the same feelings as those they were imitating, not for most people anyway, or for that matter the Disney fans whose childhood had been lifted by the classics.

The first Mary Poppins had featured dramatic tension, but nothing too grim, yet here director Rob Marshall seemed to think he was remaking It's a Wonderful Life, complete with Michael's emotional breakdown halfway through in front of his kids. That was a winner for Frank Capra, but it was also one of the grimmest movies of the immediately post-war years, and that did not apply too well to what should have been a sunny musical. These stormclouds hovering over the proceedings, embodied by Colin Firth as a banker with a heart of ice, were evidently supposed to appeal to Gen-Xers who had found adulthood and even parenthood far more difficult than they hoped when they were youngsters when Poppins showed up from out of the skies and reassured them that someone from that childhood of theirs could come back and help.

Yet weirdly, Mary does very little here other than distract the latest Banks children. In fact, the whole plot could have played out without her and more or less wound up in the same place, as even her moves to magic at the end were cursory at best. This was a curious waste of an excellent performance by Blunt, who could sing and dance with the best of them, and made a fairly endearing couple with Lin-Manuel Miranda who was the Bert stand-in with a better accent Jack, a lamplighter rather than a chimney sweep. That's not to say this was disrespectful to its forebear, as Dick Van Dyke was present once again and made the ending worth sticking around for, and Meryl Streep appeared for a skit that had nothing to do with how the plot concluded; Angela Lansbury was here for a song as well. Yet those songs were hard to recall once the credits were over, not a patch on the genius of the Sherman Brothers, and the desperation informing the motivation cast a shadow over every sequence until the situation was resolved, by which time it was too late to be effective. Well-produced, but the joy was lacking.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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