It’s 1930s London, time of the “Great Slump.” Young widower Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) has five days to pay off a bank loan on his family home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. “But it’s more than I earn in a year!” he says. Predatory banker, William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth), has no sympathy. “In a few days,” says he, “the Banks family will be out on the street and the house will be ours.” That’s the setup for “Mary Poppins Returns,” sequel to the 1964 original classic, in which, once again magical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) brings cheer, joy and wonder to the Banks children — and to us in the audience.
On what fantastic adventures will Mary Poppins take the three Banks children? Will their father find the bank-stock certificate that will pay off the loan? Can you resist being entertained by Mary Poppins and friends? I couldn’t.
Emily Blunt is a 100 percent treat as Mary Poppins, from her first appearance at the end of a kite string in a London park, to her farewell (“It’s time”) to the Banks family, rising with her hat, umbrella and satchel up into the sky. Blunt is great with the three Banks children — Anabel, John and little Georgie — played charmingly by Pixie Davis, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson. Lin-Manuel Miranda co-stars as lamp-lighter Jack, who befriends Mary and the Banks family, accompanying — and sometimes leading — them on magical adventures.
Others in the A-list cast include Ben Wishaw and Emily Mortimer as grown-up siblings Michael and Jane Banks, who were just youngsters in the original film. Colin Firth is smiling but ruthless bank president William Wilkins. “I don’t like to lose,” he says to his two yes-men. In cameo roles are Julie Walters (housekeeper Ellen), Meryl Streep (cousin Topsy), Angela Lansbury (balloon lady), David Warner (Admiral Boom) and, from the first film, Dick Van Dyke.
“Mary Poppins Returns” deserves the hype it’s been getting. A wonderful entertainment, it’s visually over-the-top, with virtually non-stop, first-rate singing and dancing. Rob Marshall directed (and co-choreographed), from David Magee’s script and, of course, from P.L. Travers’ books. A dozen or so new songs by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman add to the fun, including two in which Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) gets to sing really fast. But everyone sings, dances and, in the finale, floats up into the sky because, as the song says, “There’s Nowhere to Go but Up.”
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief animated action, “Mary Poppins Returns” runs 130 minutes. Enjoy. “Today or never!” says Mary Poppins. “I’m never incorrect!” “Everything is possible!”
After fifty-four years,
“Mary Poppins Returns” —
She is ready to cheer;
Are you ready to learn?