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"MARY POPPINS RETURNS"
(2018) (Emily Blunt, Ben Whishaw) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Musical: A magical nanny shows up once again to help a family in need.
PLOT:
It's the time of The Great Slump in London and recently widowed artist, Michael Banks (BEN WHISHAW), has had to take a job as a bank teller in order to support his kids, Anabel (PIXIE DAVIES), John (NATHANAEL SALEH), and Georgie (JOEL DAWSON), and pay for his housekeeper, Ellen (JULIE WALTERS).

Yet, Michael's new job hasn't prevented bank president Wilkins (COLIN FIRTH) -- who's only motivated by profit -- to send his two debt collectors, Gooding (JEREMY SWIFT) and Frye (KOBNA HOLDBROOK-SMITH) -- to serve Michael a foreclosure notice on the house where he grew up with his sister, Jane (EMILY MORTIMER).

It seems he's three months late on a loan taken out against his mortgage and if he can't pay the entire mortgage back in full in five days, the bank will take the house. Fortunately for the Banks family, help arrives from above in the form of Mary Poppins (EMILY BLUNT), a nanny who once cared for Michael and Jane when they were young and has arrived to do the same now for Michael's children.

With help from street light illuminator Jack (LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA) -- who also knew the nanny when he was a child -- and her fix-anything cousin, Topsy (MERYL STREEP), Mary Poppins sets out to teach the Banks children important life lessons, all while helping their father keep his house.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Without spending an inordinate amount of time doing research on the matter -- and inevitably following something into the rabbit hole that is the Internet -- I can't say for a certainty which came first -- a movie turned into a Broadway musical or a Hollywood production that stemmed from something first appearing on the Great White Way (or elsewhere where musicals typically reside).

I can say, however, that it's not difficult to spot material on either end that has crossover potential. Of course, nowadays, certain properties arrive with that already built in and you can just tell that in the not too distant future what you're seeing on the stage or up on the screen will inevitably end up in the other place.

That's the exact feeling I got while watching "Mary Poppins Returns," Disney's long-gestating sequel to -- yes, you guessed it -- a certain film about a certain nanny from a really long time ago. In fact, and again this is stated without a shred of research, this might just be the new record holder for the most years that have passed between any two installments of the same franchise.

The original film was a hit with audiences and critics alike and earned a total of thirteen Academy Award nominations and thus Walt Disney gave the green light for a sequel. But author P.L. Travers -- who wrote the book series on which the movie was based -- reportedly hated most everything about the film and wouldn't give her permission.

And thus the project was shelved, but since it's been a few decades since her death and considering the subsequent success of the stage musical based on those books and the movie, those in charge of her estate decided to let the sequel come forth.

For those wondering how I think it compares to the earlier film, I must admit that considering it's just a few months younger than yours truly and I probably last saw it no later than the early 1970s, I don't recall much about it. That is, beyond some of the songs, Dick Van Dyke dancing with some animated animals and, of course, Julie Andrews in the title role (for which she won an Oscar).

In the category of best to leave well-enough alone (especially after all of this time and the fact that Andrews is now 83), the actress doesn't return to reprise her role in this film that's set a few decades after the conclusion of the original's story. Instead, Emily Blunt steps into those iconic shoes and arrives from the sky, not via an opened umbrella, but instead holding onto an old kite flown by the young son of the boy for which Mary Poppins nannied.

She arrives just in time as that father (Ben Whishaw) has learned that the bank where he works to make ends meet (and where his late father also worked) is going to foreclose on his childhood house if he doesn't repay his mortgage in full due to an outstanding loan held by the profit-hungry banker (Colin Firth).

We learn that Michael's wife has died in the past year, and while his sister (Emily Mortimer) and housekeeper (Julie Walters) are a help, that's not enough to keep him from being stretched too thin holding down the fort, bringing home the bacon and raising his three kids (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson).

And thus Mary shows up, as if on cue, and relieves him of that latter duty and sets out to teach the kids various important life lessons, natch, in song form. And those songs, along with the orchestral interludes between those numbers as well as for opening and closing scenes, has the definite look and feel of a Broadway musical.

In fact, other than perhaps adding a few more songs, I doubt the powers that be will have to do much to make that movie to musical transformation a reality. And if there's any doubt about that, Lin-Manuel Miranda (of "Hamilton" fame) is present to perform a few numbers (including a song and dance one) while playing the grown-up who knew Mary Poppins as a kid and now has a crush on Mortimer's single character.

While they might not be as memorable or stand the test of time as have some of the original film's songs -- such as "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Let's Go Fly a Kite," and, of course, the hard to spell but easy to sing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" -- the offerings here are good. They include "Can You Imagine That?" "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" and especially the somber and emotionally affecting "The Place Where Lost Things Go."

The performances are good across the board, but it's Blunt who's under the most pressure to deliver and she does so and then some. Playing the character a bit more harsher and more mischievous than Andrews (at least of what I remember), the actress makes a fine and lasting impression as the title character (and goes a long way, with a lively musical number involving the same plumbing fixture, to make everyone comfortable again with taking a bath, what with that terrifying bathtub scene in "A Quiet Place").

This film is anything but that -- terrifying or quiet -- and should entertain kids and adults alike. I enjoyed it even more the second time I saw it and thus rate "Mary Poppins Returns" as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed November 28, 2018 / Posted December 19, 2018


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