The Return of Mary Poppins did not have an obvious task: to succeed the musical of the 60s, with which several generations grew up. But she does it brilliantly, using an imported Broadway production.
54 years separate The Return of Mary Poppins from its illustrious predecessor. The musical, entrusted to Rob Marshall, is bound to be eagerly awaited… and is doing very well. It manages to follow the 1964 film, but does not simply modernize it. Enough to satisfy today’s children as well as those of yesterday, starting on 19 December 2018 in the cinema.
It’s a bird ?! It’s a plane?! It’s Mary Poppins! // Source : Disney
The Return of Mary Poppins takes place 25 years after the first film, in the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression. Michael has taken over the family home at 17 Cherry Blossom Lane where he lives with his three children, Annabel, John and Georgie. His sister Jane, as militant as his mother, helps him to overcome the death of his wife (decidedly, Disney likes to make mothers die).
Forced to turn away from his vocation as an artist to take a job in the bank where his father worked, Michael sees the property of his house threatened by this same bank if he doesn’t manage to pay back a loan within 7 days. In this dark moment for the Banks family, Mary Poppins returns once again to support them.
This screenplay is strongly inspired by the works of novelist Pamela L. Travers, without following the plot of any one book in particular. Writers David Magee, Rob Marshall and John De Luca took the liberty of bringing together passages from various Mary Poppins suites. They have pushed their departure from the original work to the point of centering the story around an adult Michael, while the character remains a child in the books. But they respect the author’s universe and her characters, and that’s enough.
The simplicity of the script will not overshadow the quality of the different scenes. In the books, each chapter is about a day and an adventure. Disney has chosen to take over this construction and presents different paintings for this purpose. Each one reproduces a very particular mini-universe, whether in the decor, colours or music. We marvel at the beauty of the streets of London, we amuse ourselves with the abracadabrantesque decor of Topsy’s house (Meryl Streep’s character), or we admire the quality of the 2D animations of the music-hall scene. This variety of universes means you’ll never be bored.
The simplistic storyline ensures that the youngest spectators are not lost, but it also offers an appreciable continuity that gives the musical its unity. In this way, screenwriters avoid the succession of tableaux or the lack of plot that some children’s content can be criticised for.
Georgie, the newest member of the Banks family, manages to become endearing. // Source: Disney
Speaking of children, The Return of Mary Poppins succeeds in giving the three Banks an important place, without falling into silliness. Because we’re not going to lie to each other: children’s characters in fiction are often annoying. But this film manages to make them endearing.
The Return of Mary Poppins unwraps Broadway’s finest assets. The group dances impress – if we forget the strange BMX stunts – and the masterful orchestral music is even more present than in the first opus. But we must also pay tribute to the quality of the sets and costumes, which brilliantly juggle between the historical and the magical. Disney has recruited a five-star cast, bursting with Tony and Oscar nominations and awards, and it shows on screen.
Rob Marshall, the director, began his career on Broadway, and you can tell by the number of dancers present in sketches. Moreover, the production emphasizes the time that was given to the artists for rehearsals, which would have allowed them to provide such a result.
The Return of Mary Poppins does not neglect her immense legacy. Fans of the first opus will be delighted to find the universe of the film, with multiple winks and funny references that we will let you discover. But the film doesn’t just serve the soup to the nostalgic, it offers a work worthy of succeeding it with the younger generations. The parallels between the two musicals are obvious.
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious had marked the first film, Trick A Little Light Fantastic takes over // Source : Disney
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious thus finds its successor in the great number of Mary Poppins and lamplighters, Trip a Little Light Fantastic. The cartoon passage in the music hall makes a lasting impression, as does the passage in Bert’s first opus. Or Cousin Topsy takes over from Uncle in constant laughter.
Mission impossible for Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda have the insurmountable task of re-forming the cult duo of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Inevitably, they will suffer from the comparison. Andrews had won the Oscar for Best Actress with her magnificent performance, while Van Dyke asserted himself as her clownish complement.
From her very first minutes on screen, Emily Blunt fits the role of the practically perfect nanny perfectly. If the Mary Poppins in this film is perhaps less relaxed than the previous one, the English actress takes on the features: gently severe, sometimes mischievous, and always impeccable. If we appreciate his overall performance, we may regret the absence of a truly outstanding act. Emily Blunt sings very well, blends in with the dances, but she is never really put forward, even though the film is named after her character.
All Emily Blunt needs is one more number to match her eldest daughter. // Source: Disney
Lin-Manuel Miranda, on the other hand, is at a disadvantage: he is American. As talented as he is, his imitation British accent is a real eye-catcher in this authentic London. Unless it was a deliberate nod to the production, since Dick Van Dyke’s overly exaggerated accent had also garnered criticism? But from Emily Blunt to the kids, with little Georgie in the lead, they all have an accent to cut with a knife. Miranda’s sounds fake, whereas her character must be the Londoner par excellence.
Once this detail is partially set aside – and probably erased in the VF – one can only praise its performance. His character, the lamplighter Jack, is much less clownish than Bert, and therefore necessarily less striking. It is apparently a disadvantage, but it allows Miranda to be a magnificent supporting role alongside Emily Blunt. And on the musical side, Miranda lives up to his reputation: singer on the main song of the film, “Underneath the lovely London sky”, – worthy heir to “Chim Chim Cher-ee” – he leads many choreographies with ease.
Ben Wishaw plays Michael, the child from the first film, who has become a father of two and is grieving over the death of his wife. You might recognize him from James Bond Skyfall and Spectre or in his lead role in the Perfume. In this Mary Poppins comeback, he’s just so good, he’s stealing her thunder. His solo song, A Conversation, almost a spoken word, is extremely touching (we might even have had a tear in our eye).
Perfect in his role as a loving father but overwhelmed by events, the actor stands out with his emotional performance. And then his character, the extreme opposite of the patriarchal figure of Mr. Banks in the first film, offers a different and refreshing vision of education. The father does not hesitate to apologize to his children for his unjust outbursts, nor to give importance to their opinions, without being authoritarian.
Jane and Michael are 25 years older than in Mary Poppins. // Source: Disney
This endearing character, created from scratch by the writers, unfortunately relegates Jane’s character to the background. The little girl in the original film stole the spotlight from her little brother, the adult in the second is relegated to a supporting role. Very little present on the sung scenes, his character has almost no use, except as a pretext for a soft love story, barely developed. Well, Emily Mortimer makes the most of this ungrateful role, but we regret her treatment.
A great musical for the whole family.
Mary Poppins’ Return is not free of defects, but the overall production is of such high quality that it is difficult not to recommend it. And the musical should appeal to adults and children alike – provided you like the genre, of course. Children’s favourite nanny arrives in cinemas on December 19, and should prove to be an excellent family film.
Indicative note: 4/5
A lovely musical, suitable for young and old, with a high quality production. Disney built on the elements that made Mary Poppins’ success and modernized it perfectly. We will regret that the nanny character is a little too much in the background, even if it is to the benefit of Michael Banks’ very touching character. Anyway, if you’re looking for a family movie to go to at Christmas, go for it.
- Broadway in its best clothes
- Perfect for the nostalgic, as well as for the neophytes.
- Ben Wishaw
- The Jane Banks character
- Mary Poppins too far back
- BMX stunts?!?
Article originally published on 13 December 2018