In 1964, Walt Disney finally had the opportunity to release his long-awaited feature film, Mary Poppins, based on the book by P.L. Travers. He had pursued the author for the rights to make this movie for 20 years, and if you’ve seen the 2013 movie Saving Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks as Disney, you already know the difficulties he encountered and the author’s resistance it. Today, Mary Poppins is a household name, and many of the songs from the movie passed down a couple of generations.
The total budget for the original Mary Poppins was $6 million, and over time, it has grossed more than $102 million in the US alone. With that kind of success, making a sequel could have been a precarious situation. It could have been a disaster, or an impersonation of the real thing. However, after previewing the movie last week (as a guest of Nissan) at the worldwide premiere with the stars themselves, I can say with great enthusiasm that it’s not any of those things. It’s pure joy, rendered in digital color.
The 2018 follow up, Mary Poppins Returns, is a continuation of the story of siblings Jane and Michael Banks, who are now all grown up. Michael has three children of his own, and they are valiantly trying to recover from an unimaginable loss when they discover that more difficulties are on the horizon. Jane is single and active in the community, as was her mother, and she is clearly very close to her brother. And still, perhaps, a codfish, as Mary Poppins says when she turns up on a blustery day.
Emily Blunt, in darkened hair and period costumes, is a wonderful Mary Poppins. She has the sass down pat and the softness underneath shines through her eyes. Born in London herself, Blunt has two small children with actor John Krasinski, and she seems to be a perfect match for this role. While her voice does not have exactly the same perfect pitch as Julie Andrews’ did as the original Mary (I mean, who does?), Blunt’s is terrific in the role. Andrews opted out of a cameo role in this movie, reportedly stepping aside graciously to let Blunt have the limelight.
And Lin-Manuel Miranda! The dancing, the singing, and the creative casting of a Puerto Rican hip-hop musical star (and creator genius) in the role of Jack the lamplighter was inspired. While he has received some flack in the press about his Cockney accent, I think it’s softer than the one Dick Van Dyke used for Bert in the original. It goes without saying that Miranda’s singing and dancing numbers were spectacular.
Speaking of Dick Van Dyke, he is back in Mary Poppins Returns in a small but memorable role, and at the premiere, the audience erupted in applause to see him still dancing. On the red carpet before the show, his megawatt smile was unmistakable. Having him in the film was a smart move, a blend of past and present.
The original soundtrack contained earworms like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “A Spoonful of Sugar” from musical masters Richard and Robert Sherman. Mary Poppins Returns features 27 tracks, nine of them brand-new songs by composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman. Disney has already released the first two tracks from the new album on YouTube and Spotify, with Miranda singing “Trip a Light Fantastic” and Blunt singing “The Place Where Lost Things Go.” The latter, a gorgeous lullaby in the vein of “Feed the Birds,” threatened to spill all of the tears from my eyes. Somehow, I didn’t ruin all of my makeup, but my chest hurt after that.
Watching this movie musical feels like swirling around in a circle as you throw back your head and laugh, and you fall to the ground, exhilarated. Then you’ll dream about the sweetest people in your life and childhood memories that never left you.
Don’t miss Mary Poppins Returns, in theaters December 19. It will make your holiday season even better.
Top photo source: Walt Disney Studios