“Mary” Pops in “Returns”

A perfect balance of something borrowed, something new is brought to big screen life in Rob Marshall’s spectacular cinematic mosaic of media magic

A remarkable plethora of talent is resplendent throughout, behind the camera and on screen for Mary Poppins Returns, the new Disney sequel to the studio’s 1964 motion picture classic.

The ghost of Walt Disney and Julie Andrew’s original interpretation of the mystical nanny is prevalent in all the right places and frames of this thoroughly modern magical mystical tour de force. Sharing the screenwriting credit with David Macgee and John DeLuca, Marshall is clearly a fan of the original Poppins, as he makes certain Returns adheres to the visual and storied mythology of the revered first take (helmed by Robert Stevenson).

Right smack in the middle of it all, new Poppins lead Emily Blunt had big knickers to fill in stepping into Andrews’ puss and boots, but the award-winning actress adds a fresh face to the character; Blunt (a name that works for the character!) brings her own special brand of demure to what could easily have turned into a theatrical mess in the hands of a less fêted performer.

Andrews rejected the idea of making even a cameo into the mix of this dear Poppins fresh dough, ray of sunshine and glee, because, allegedly, she did not want to steal the spotlight from Blunt. But one can’t help wonder if there are other reasons why she is not in this film.

Fortunately, other veteran performers like always-perfect Angela Lansbury (as the Balloon Lady, the character allegedly written for Andrews), Dick Van Dyke (who starred in the original Mary, and makes a remarkable screen return of his own at 93!), Colin Firth, David Warner, and Meryl Streep (to a lesser extent), each deliver the goods.

And while Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as the adult Banks siblings are nothing less than Shakespearean supreme, Returns’ fresh batch of child actors, Joel Dawson, Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Davies, light up the screen with vibrancy and an enormous bag of Bojangles skill that boggles for their age. And it was a nice surprise to see original Poppins child actor Karen Dotrice in a sweet cameo.

Meanwhile, too, shades of the superior quality of stupendous original Poppins songs by the Sherman brothers Richard and Robert can be heard in Returns, and the still-very-much-alive musical maestro Richard Sherman served as a consultant on the new film’s catchy tunes and score composed by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman (who wrote the lyrics with Shaiman).

The modern musical numbers may still not hold a candle to the original any of the Sherman brothers “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” word or note, but the new tunes light up the visuals of Returns with astounding audio aplomb.

The charming criss-cross mash of live-action and animation that remains such a cherished morsel of the original Poppins makes its way with nostalgic panache in Returns, minus any flashy CGI. Instead, the original “flat” style of initial Poppins is nostalgically retro-fitted for the new film (by way of few veterans Disney artists coaxed out of retirement to do so). And the results are breezy on the eyes.

And while Hamilton resident stage genius Lin-Manuel Miranda might not have the ideal amount of charisma or sophistication required for a feature film lead, what he lacks in elegance and chiseled features, he makes up for in raw and sculptured talent. And while, too, the cinematography for Returns’ interior scenes might still be too dark for nostalgic tastes (bring back the old studio lighting for Pete's [dragon] sake), the cinematography for the new Poppins is crisp, clear and pretty (the closing frames bring it all home).

Marshall at the helm delivers a non-stop ream of entertainment, frame-by-frame, minus any of the “edgy” manic camera angles of his big-screen take on Chicago from a few years back.

In all, the lengthy (2 hour and 10 minute) Mary Poppins Returns is nothing short of a noble, valiant, and stellar musical feature film, free from the dark trappings of snarky, sardonic storytelling and characters that too many times poison the space on the modern screen of any new movie (musical or otherwise).

As Emily Blunt’s proud Mary might spout if she saw the film herself, Mary Poppins Returns is “…practically perfect in every way.”

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