Rob Marshall directs Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Whishaw in this legacy sequel to one of the greatest children’s fantasy musicals ever made; where again a magical nanny reinvigorates a dysfunctional family with imagination and song.
Well… this could have went either way! The sixties original is a cherished classic full of wonder, showstoppers and strange sexual tension between Mary and Bert. No one was crying out for a decades later follow-up. And Rob Marshall has been responsible for some duffers in the past, in this very genre. Luckily Poppins 2 is no Into the Woods. The casting helps. Emily Blunt almost assures quality and sparkles here. She’s the one element that matches her original counterpart. In fact, she’s even more comfortable in the bawdier moments when the mask of fiction slightly slips and you get the feeling you are watching the help (a governess and lamplighter) flirt at the service entrance, viewed through the trippy filter of a child’s overactive imagination. Lin-Manuel Miranda is also winning as our Bert substitute, Jack. He bravely tackles the unique Dick Van Dyke accent and optimism. They make for a spirited pair who convince and sell as they enter 2D animated realms and dance across the rooftops of landmarks. And when DVD does turn up, he is used well, without exhausting the old wizardry. Bless him, he goes at his cameo full pelt. Julie Andrews doesn’t show up, but the role she would have occupied is kept and feels glaringly obvious that is why it exists. The songbook is solid. It tries to match its parent’s sequence by sequence. They all get the toes tapping and are furnished with strong dance numbers. Yet only Trip a Little Light Fantastic and The Royal Doulton Music Hall threaten to become standards. All in all, this makes a lovely extension of the original classic, even if it never fully becomes its own movie in its own right. Mary Poppins Returns will keep the family captivated for Christmases to come.