London timidly reveals its skyline behind a foggy veil, but the cold breeze seems to bite a little less thanks to Jack, an endearing lamplighter played by Hamilton’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who tours the streets of the awakening city with a smile and a song on his lips. It is on Cherry Tree Lane that his bicycle finally slows down, where the glow of the last lamp fades away. We are back on the familiar doorsteps, but so many years have passed and all traces of childhood miracles have clearly disappeared.
Michael and Jane Banks (respectively, Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer) grew up, and life has shaken them both up. Michael Banks (a character that Ben Whishaw portrays wearing his heart on his sleeve) is henceforth a young widower trying to deal with grief whilst taking care of his three children Annabelle (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). No carefree bursts of laughter resonate within these walls, but a chaotic and hectic routine seems to have slipped in. The situation worsens when the entire family is threatened with eviction. The house holds the last dearest memory they have from a joyful past and, for young and old, it must be preserved at all cost. But only one person in the entire universe and even beyond, could save the day.
That’s the reason why Mary Poppins returns. And as usual, she comes floating down from the sky, in a cut to fit overcoat and colourful boots. She represents the providential twist the Banks’ cloudy everyday life was awaiting desperately.
Consequently, Emily Blunt builds on the original Mary Poppins whilst crafting her own interpretation of the character, keeping in mind Julie Andrew’s legacy without mirroring it. Her Mary Poppins is witty, irresistible and terribly elegant (wearing a cluster of electric red, dazzling blue and pure white that blends together perfectly), thus giving a fresh impetus to the notorious nanny’s portrait. This new version of Mary Poppins doesn’t need much to conquer. With a wink, a quick nod or just by shrugging a shoulder, Blunt overflows with a renewed magical mischievousness that enchants and captivates. It is with brio that she lives up to the role.
From the maid Ellen (Julie Walters) to the park keeper, all characters bring a new shade to the palette, even when it comes to the emblematic villain all Disney films require. The one portrayed in Mary Poppins Returns is a tenderly devilish gentleman (that borrows Colin Firth’s impassible traits) and remains as charming in mischief as the rest of the cast.
The world of fantasy settles in with a succession of songs musical-style (in which we notice the Sherman brothers’ influence from the first film) and matching choreography that gives a rhythm and pattern to the story. Every single one of them exploding with pastel colours on darker backgrounds, stretches the imagination and ignites the senses. Miranda and Blunt’s moment of glory happens as they evolve on stage, performing the memorable “A Cover Is Not The Book”, all eyes on them. Mary Poppins Returns reminds us of melodies from our early childhood that would undoubtedly catch our attention (the echo of Alan Menken’s ‘Be Our Guest’ or even ‘Everybody Wants to be a Cat’ is never far). Having said that, a couple of the songs might feel completely foreign to the plot as they move away from the central theme. Although delightfully extravagant, it is hard to clearly see where they want to lead the characters, or us. But what remains in the end is a general sensation of comfort and joie de vivre that sweeps away all doubts. Mary Poppins Returns confirms that spending time with Mary is still a ‘walking on a cloud’ experience.
By blowing the dust off the cover of P.L. Travers’s children book and reviving Mary Poppins’ tale for the first time since 1964, Walt Disney Pictures allows this sequel to be nostalgic, yet it also feels anew. Mary Poppins Returns leaves such a soothing impression that, barely out of the theatre, we catch ourselves looking at the sky, expecting our very own fantastic nanny to tear up the haze and bring a whirlwind of balloons, dolphins and light into the darkness enveloping our gloomy reality.
by Marie-Célia Cannenpasse
Marie-Célia is from a French Caribbean island, and currently studying applied foreign languages at Sorbonne University in Paris, whilst taking filmmaking courses online. She enjoys listening to soundtracks curled up under a comfy duvet on rainy days, gushing about Kate Winslet or Christian Bale on a daily basis, and crying over the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace. Her favourite films include Gone with the wind, Super 8, Call me by your name and The Prestige. You can find her on Twittter @MCeliaCR and on letterboxd too @MCeliaCR.