"Mary Poppins Returns" (2018)- Movie Review

Directed by Rob Marshall
Written by David Magee
Starring Emily Blunt, Lin Manuel-Miranda and Ben Whishaw

‘A Marvelous Musical’

Before I begin this review, I must admit that I’m not a fan of musicals. For some reason, I’ve never gravitated towards movies in which people suddenly break into song and dance. With their exaggerated characters, nonsensical stories and loud music, musicals are often a chore to sit through. There was once a time when old-fashioned musicals were successful in Hollywood. However, now musicals have long become a thing of the past. With the exception of a few films such as 2016’s “La La Land”, the musical genre has deteriorated over time. And I no longer have the patience to sit through films in which people sing and dance.

Although musicals are not my cup of tea, Rob Marshall’s latest film “Mary Poppins Returns” truly blew me away. A nostalgic, old-fashioned musical, it is one of those movies that Hollywood simply doesn’t make anymore. With his latest feature, director Rob Marshall has crafted a marvelous musical that pays homage to the 1964 classic film. Packed with plenty of impressive sets, unforgettable musical numbers and terrific performances from the cast, it is one of those musicals that work on nearly every level. Although it is undeniably well-made, the movie suffers from a lengthy running time. That being said, it offers a magical movie-going experience that fans of musicals won’t be able to resist.

Set in 1930’s London, “Mary Poppins Returns” picks up twenty-five years after the events of the first film. Now an adult with three children, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a bank teller that must repay a loan in order to save his family. If he does not pay the loan on time, Michael will lose everything: his job, house and family. Just when hope seems to be lost, Michael’s childhood nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to save the day and give his children inspiration during a troublesome time.

If there’s anyone that knows how to perfectly stage a musical number, it is director Rob Marshall. Ever since he burst onto the scene with 2002’s award-winning “Chicago”, Marshall has proven to be an expert of the genre. With “Mary Poppins Returns”, Marshall has crafted his most impressive musical to date. It is not easy to recreate the magic of a classic film, but the director pulls it off effortlessly. Using gorgeous sets and production design, Marshall stages the most stunning musical sequences you will see in a movie this year. From the gorgeously animated “A Cover is Not the Book” to the toe-tapping “Trip a Little Light Fantastic”, the film features memorable musical sequences that will keep viewers entertained. It is hard to not marvel at the musical numbers, which are flawlessly executed and the highlight of the movie. “Mary Poppins Returns” is worth seeing on the big-screen for its musical sequences alone.

If exciting music is not what attracts you to the theater, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Mary Poppins Returns”. Amidst all the thrilling musical numbers, the film offers a heartwarming story. The story, which focuses on a family’s struggle to survive during the Great Depression, is emotionally resonant. Surprised? So am I. But in the best possible way. We’ve seen over the years the consequences that come when musicals have too much music and not enough story. Sometimes, there is so much music in these movies that the story gets lost in a shuffle. Thankfully, though, director Rob Marshall avoids these pitfalls with “Mary Poppins Returns”. Instead, he manages to keep a fine balance between the musical numbers, story and characters. It’s an approach that works tremendously, allowing the viewer to become invested in the story.

In terms of acting, the entire cast is at the top of its game and seems to be having a blast of fun. In the year’s most star-studded musical ensemble, every actor gets the chance to shine and leave a lasting impression.

Emily Blunt delivers one of the best performances of her career as Mary Poppins. Charming, charismatic and funny, she creates a fresh interpretation of an iconic character. It is not easy to take on a beloved character played by the legendary Julie Andrews, but Blunt pulls it off effortlessly. It’s a role that allows the actress to showcase her wide range of talents, and she manages to do it full justice. With quirky mannerisms and a sharp sense of humor, she seamlessly captures the persona of the magical nanny. Not only does Blunt act with conviction, but she proves that she can sing and dance in every musical number. It’s a remarkable performance from one of the finest actresses working today.

The supporting cast is also excellent and worthy of recognition. Lin Manuel-Miranda is irresistibly charming and steals nearly every scene he is in as Jack the lamplighter. Ben Whishaw is fantastic in the role of a frustrated father struggling to raise his family. And finally, it is hard to not mention Meryl Streep. Although she only appears for a five-minute song, the legendary actress brings hilarious comical relief and persona to the film.

Although “Mary Poppins Returns” is undeniably well-made, ultimately it is not a film without flaws. If I had a minor issue with the movie, it would be the lengthy running time. At two hours and ten minutes, the film is slightly long and drags towards the end. With the help of a memorable score, director Rob Marshall keeps the film moving at an engaging pace during the first hour. However, once the film enters its finale it starts to lose steam and test the viewer’s patience. The finale is slightly extended, and in this regard a little more attention to the editing would have elevated the movie to another level. That being said, this is only a minor gripe with a film that is practically perfect in every way.

Fans of old-fashioned musicals will definitely enjoy “Mary Poppins Returns” and so will movie-goers seeking family-friendly entertainment this holiday season. As someone that normally can’t stand musicals, I did not expect to enjoy this movie. Nevertheless, it left a beaming smile on my face that has stayed with me ever since.

4/5 stars

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