As the cast and crew are quick to point out, Mary Poppins Returns is not a remake, it’s a sequel. With that in mind, the film does its best to channel the silliness and positivity of the first film, even if it doesn’t feel quite as iconic as the original.
The Banks siblings are all grown up. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a recent widower and part-time bank teller with three kids, while Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) is an activist fighting for workers rights. When Michael gets a repossession notice for the Banks home, help arrives from above in the form of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt). She quickly goes to work to teach the much-too-serious next generation of Banks children, assisted by lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda).
Above all, Mary Poppins Returns nails the tone of the original. Fantasy scenes pop with color and the songs are mostly sweeping, musical fun. The upgraded graphics of today open up new playgrounds for Poppins and her wards. The group turns bath time into a deep sea adventure and a cracked vase into a colorful 2D animated world, reminiscent of the first. Even though it runs more than two hours, the film bounces along from song to song, never settling long enough to make you check the time. As expected, the film peppers references to its original throughout the film through cameos and callbacks. The animated penguins make their return, while Jack’s “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” has much the same look as Bert’s “Step in Time”. It’s a darn right charming affair, and the whole cast looks like they’re just excited to be involved.
Blunt carries the talking parrot umbrella with just enough deference to Julie Andrews without veering into an impression, while Lin-Manuel Miranda is a fitting heir to Dick Van Dyke’s inexhaustible chimney sweep. While Mortimer doesn’t get too much to work with as Jane Banks, Ben Whishaw turns in a moving performance as a man recovering from grief and longing to find some childlike imagination once again.
That said, try as it might, Mary Poppins Returns just doesn’t have that same kind of shine as the original that made it iconic. The accents are passable at best, and lyrics were incredibly difficult to catch in fast-paced songs. Some of the callbacks felt exhausting, and cameos by Colin Firth and Meryl Streep felt a little out of step with the rest of the production.
Still, those are nitpicky things. Overall, this sequel (not a remake) is a joy to watch on screen, with feel good songs and energy galore. I hope parents enjoy it, because this is one that I could see kids wanting to watch over and over again at home.