• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Mary Poppins Returns... in surprisingly good fashion

The return of super-nanny Mary Poppins is almost as magical and entertaining as the original.

Reboot Mary Poppins? Isn’t that supercalifragilisticexpi-sacreligious? After all, the 1964 original Disney musical gave the sainted Julie Andrews some of her finest hours on screen. It won her an Oscar. It got her The Sound of Music. So, a 21st-century Poppins redo? Cor, blimey, guv’nor, whatever next? Getting Nazis to chase those von Trapp kids up some hills again?

Except, well, Mary Poppins Returns is everything a long-awaited and arguably unnecessary sequel to a decades-old song-and-dance classic could, or, should be. It rewards lasting affection for the original. It does stuff in its mix of live action and animation that still dazzles with its ye olde hand-drawn Disney-ness as the characters wander into imaginary worlds.

One of those is based on the landscape artwork on a piece of Royal Doulton china and includes a horse-and-carriage ride to a music-hall extravaganza. It’s quite the antiques roadshow.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

As its brolly-powered domestic superheroine, the ridiculously adaptable Emily Blunt delivers a performance of prim poise and infectious glee that, thankfully, doesn’t feel like an Andrews impression.

There are terrific turns elsewhere, too, especially from Lin-Manuel Miranda as lamplighter Jack, this film’s answer to Dick Van Dyke’s accent-mangling Bert, and Ben Whishaw as the grown-up Michael Banks, now widowed with three children. He isn’t coping, despite the support of sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) and with his mortgage in arrears, the bank, headed by a villainous Colin Firth, has given them a foreclosure deadline.

With the story shifted from the Edwardian era to sometime during the Great Depression, the film essentially follows the story beats of the original. So the songs arrive just as frequently – if not as infectiously. Yes, a don’t-make-them-like-they-used-to factor applies to the musical numbers, which occasionally quote from the Sherman Brothers’ originals, but aren’t quite in the same earworm league, though a couple, such as the high-stepping Trip a Little Light Fantastic and the melancholy The Place Where Lost Things Go come close.

Meryl Streep turns up as Mary’s loopy Eastern European cousin, Topsy, but her big number, Turning Turtle, is unfortunately the lesser of her two recent single-song cameos after that Mamma Mia sequel.

It’s also one of a couple of moments when director Rob Marshall’s razzle-dazzle Broadway leanings detract slightly from the Disney storybook magic. Largely, though, his film is a delight. Its energy and rampant cheeriness are enough to leave you feeling dazed and giddy. Yes, Poppins II will put you in a nanny state.

IN CINEMAS FROM JANUARY 1

★★★★1/2

Video: Walt Disney Studios

This article was first published in the January 5, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.