Release Date(s)2018 (March 19, 2019)
Studio(s)Walt Disney Pictures (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Over five decades ago, Mary Poppins was released by the Disney Company and made a movie star out of Julie Andrews. Created by P.L. Travers in a series of books published between 1934 and 1988, Mary Poppins was a magical nanny who never explained how unusual things happened on her watch. Mary Poppins Returns takes place thirty years after the first film.
It’s the Depression era. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), now an adult with three children, is grieving over the recent death of his wife. Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), his sister and a union activist, stays by his side as Michael faces foreclosure on the family home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Just when circumstances look hopelessly bleak, Michael’s former nanny, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), makes her signature entrance from the clouds with an open umbrella and turned out feet.
With brisk efficiency, she goes about setting things right and begins a fantasy-filled journey for Michael’s children while Michael desperately searches for a document proving he owns shares in the bank that’s threatening to take his house – the only possible way of preventing foreclosure.
With the children, Mary Poppins turns routine duties into magical experiences. A bath becomes an undersea adventure with the kids cavorting with dolphins and other sea creatures in the musical number Can You Imagine That? A walk in the park turns into a fantastical event when Mary and her high-spirited friend Jack the lamplighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda) whisk the children inside the pastoral painting on a bowl and they all interact with animated characters (The Royal Doulton Music Hall). However extraordinary their adventures, Mary goes about them matter-of-factly, as if they were everyday occurrences.
Since Julie Andrews made such an indelible impression as the magical nanny, Ms. Blunt has a hard act to follow but is an excellent fit for the role. She delivers Mary’s signature phrases, such as “Spit spot” and “Pish posh,” without irony in a performance that honors the character, balancing whimsy with beneficent sternness and a bit of sentiment. In the plaintive The Place Where Lost Things Go, a heartfelt ballad about how things start to look up for the Banks family when Mary offers her special perspective, Ms. Blunt’s voice is pleasant, not overly trained, and suits the character. She’s a nanny singing a lullaby to children, not doing vocal calisthenics.
Mr. Miranda provides sparks that truly ignite many scenes, whether leading a chorus of lamplighters in the big production number Trip a Little Light Fantastic or displaying growing affection for Jane. Jack once worked for Bert the chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke in the original film) and possesses a similar bag of talents. Mr. Miranda’s enthusiasm and charm contribute both warmth and fun.
Colin Firth plays the elegantly dressed villain of the film, the greedy banker eager to snatch the Banks’ home away. If he had a mustache, he’d be twirling it. Julie Walters plays longtime housekeeper Ellen. David Warner is Admiral Boom, who has a fondness for firing a cannon from the roof of his home, next door to the Banks. Meryl Streep has one scene as east European-accented Cousin Topsy. Angela Lansbury figures prominently as the Balloon Lady in the film’s final scene.
The most nostalgic casting is 93-year-old Dick Van Dyke, who played both Bert and the senior Mr. Dawes in the earlier film, as Mr. Dawes, Jr. He is a welcome connection to the original and even gets to perform a little song and dance, a reprise of Trip a Little Light Fantastic.
The production design is opulent in every frame, from the watercolor paintings under the opening credits to the houses on Cherry Tree Lane to the animated worlds visited by Mary and her charges. The songs, by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, include a quiet, reflective ballad (Michael’s A Conversation), a Broadway-style number (A Cover Is Not the Book), a happy solo (Jack’s Lovely London Sky), and Meryl Streep’s weird Turning Turtle, in which Cousin Topsy seems to have wandered in from a Lewis Carroll novel. The songs don’t have the charm of the Sherman brothers’ score from the original but they are enjoyable, if not especially memorable.
Rated PG, Mary Poppins Returns is a sequel that has taken many years to come to the screen, and the result has been worth the wait. With its on-the-money casting of Emily Blunt, a solid supporting cast, and the wonders of the Disney animation department, the film is a delightful excursion into a world in which anything is possible.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack Multi-Screen Edition contains 2 discs plus a Digital Copy code found on a paper insert within the package. The widescreen aspect ratio is 2.39:1. Audio is English 7.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio and English 2.0 Descriptive Audio. Other language track options include Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. There are also Spanish and French subtitles and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH).
The color palette is vibrant with bright hues dominating, especially in the live action/animated sequences. The Royal Doulton Music Hall scene is especially eye-catching with its blend of hand-drawn animation and live actors and is reminiscent of the Jolly Holiday number in the original film. The gas street lamps create atmosphere in scenes set at dusk or at night, and become a major ingredient in the dazzling Trip a Little Light Fantastic production number. The daytime scenes on Cherry Tree Lane, complete with the Banks house, carriages, pedestrians, and blooming cherry trees, are quite beautiful and realistic, considering that the street is a set built on a huge sound stage.
Bonus materials include a behind-the-scenes making-of mini-documentary, deleted scenes, bloopers, a deleted song, and two featurettes.
The Practically Perfect Making of Mary Poppins Returns – Director Rob Marshall and the actors talk about their affection and reverence for the original movie. Eight weeks were allocated for rehearsals, staging, making changes, and adapting. A time-lapse sequence shows the construction of the Cherry Tree Lane set. Marshall aimed for a theatrical quality. ”Rob is a great conductor for the symphony he’s creating.” The filming of the scene in which Mary Poppins floats down from the sky is shown. Songs have to emerge from the action, with lyrics taking the place of spoken dialogue. Marc Shaiman’s songs are in the style of the Sherman brothers’ score for the original Mary Poppins. Songs are pre-recorded and lip-synced on camera. Actors are shown suspended by cables for the film’s balloon finale.
Seeing Things From a Different Point of View – Four musical sequences are examined in detail.
1. Trip a Little Light Fantastic – This is the movie’s big production number, in the style of Step In Time from the original. Fifty dancers portray London lamplighters. The sequence took a week and a half to film. We see Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Blunt, and dancers in rehearsal.
2. The Royal Doulton Music Hall/A Cover Is Not a Book – This sequence required a seamless blend of live action and hand-drawn animation. Actors were filmed against a green screen with green props. Live action had to be coordinated with animators and costume designers to create a new world.
3. Turning Turtle – Meryl Streep, who plays Mary Poppins’ cousin Topsy, had a week to learn her song and film the sequence. A room with furniture hanging from the ceiling had to be built, with objects bolted to the ceiling.
4. Can You Imagine That? – The underwater adventure was filmed dry with actors on cables against a green screen. Animated sea creatures were added using CGI.
Practically Perfect Bloopers – This is a montage of actors blowing lines, miscues, on-set accidents, and laughter.
Back to Cherry Tree Lane: Dick Van Dyke Returns – Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, and Lin-Manuel Miranda comment on how exciting it was to work with Dick Van Dyke, who played Bert the chimneysweep and Mr. Dawes, Sr. in the original film. Van Dyke walks through the Cherry Tree Lane set with director Rob Marshall, reminiscing and commenting on how perfectly it duplicates the original.
Deleted Song: The Anthropomorphic Zoo – A demo recording sung by songwriter Marc Shaiman is accompanied by production drawings. The song was intended for the place where The Royal Doulton Music Hall now appears.
Deleted Scenes – There are two deleted scenes, which are extended versions of Mary Poppins and the children leaving Topsy’s and Trip a Little Light Fantastic.
– Dennis Seuling