Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) has been struggling since his wife died. He can’t keep up with his bills, thanks to “The Great Slump.” His three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson), not only take care of themselves, but also take care of their father. A couple lawyers (Jeremy Swift and Kobna Holbrook-Smith) show up at Michael’s door, they tell him he has until Friday to pay the loan in full or they will repossess his house. Michael’s sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) helps him scour their father’s old documents to find his certificate of bank shares in order to save the house.
With the kids in desperate need of a mother figure and all but neglected by their father, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) shows up to tend to the children. Accompanied by a lamplighter named Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Mary and the kids embark on all sorts of magical adventures. Throughout these adventures, the children are hatching their own plans on how to save their home while Michael and Jane are resigning themselves to Mr. Wilkins (Colin Firth) taking their childhood home. They have until the last stroke of midnight to come up with some sort of miracle.
More than 50 years after the original, Mary Poppins Returns to, literally, bring her magic to a new generation.
I can’t imagine a more perfect casting than Emily Blunt as the titular Mary Poppins. She has the right charm and bite to play the magical, musical nanny. Blunt does an excellent job, as expected. Filling in as a Dick Van Dyke (who makes a surprising spry cameo in the film) replacement is Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s no surprise that he holds his own next to Blunt. Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson also serve their roles well. Ben Whishaw’s Michael comes off a bit over the top as the forlorn father who can’t keep it together after his wife dies – it is a Disney movie, so one of the parents had to die.
The film tries to capture the magic of the original Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke film. For the most part, it succeeds. It is an almost continuous string of song after song with some of them aiming at being as catchy as Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Only time will tell if they reach that iconic level. Mary Poppins is a little more sarcastic and blunt – pun somewhat intended – than I remember, but it seems to be meant to let the kids come up with ideas on their own and grow up while staying kids. The film is a long 2 hours 10 minutes, and it feels every minute of it. There are a few scenes and some musical numbers that stay a little past their welcome. If they had shaved it down a bit and kept it under 2 hours, it would have been a better film.
Mary Poppins Returns tries as hard as it can to recapture a childhood classic. Unfortunately, it tries too hard at times. With Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda as the leads, it should have been an easy home run. Instead, it feels a bit labored as it forces its enchantment on you. That said, my 9-year-old said it is one of her favorite movies of the year. If you are looking for a family movie outing over the holidays, this one might fit the bill.