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A Spoonful Of Sugar

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Mary Poppins Returns
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, and others
Rating: * * *

Even those who haven’t seen the 1964 film with Julie Andrews playing Mary Poppins, a magical nanny with a flying umbrella, would know the immortal songs like Just A Spoonful Of Sugar, Let’s Go Fly A Kite, Chim-Chim-Cheree and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. One big problem with Rob Marshall’s Mary Poppins Returns is that it does not have such hummable songs; the other is that a briskly efficient Emily Blunt simply cannot match the warmth of Julie Andrews.

PL Travers’s beloved children’s book made for a perfect Disney musical, with a spirited blend of live action and animation. Today, with all the advances in technology, Marshall can present exquisite set pieces like the one under water and inside a painted bowl, but cannot replicate the sheer awe the original generated, because it predated the computer animation revolution in Hollywood. Plus, there is nothing to beat the power of nostalgia.

Michael and Jane Banks (Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer), who were kids in the first film, are grown up now and continue to live in Cherry Lane, next door to the batty admiral who has a canon blasted off every hour. Twenty years later, Jane is a social activist and Michael is a grieving widower with three children, Anabel, John, Georgie (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson). He is unable to cope with the problems he is facing, which include the imminent repossession of the house by the bank, because he cannot repay a loan. The boss of the bank is the nasty Wilkins (Colin Firth), taking advantage of a “great slump” to gym people of their homes.

Little Georgie finds the old kite (that appeared in the earlier film), and goes off to fly it; then who should appear from the skies but the new Mary Poppins (Blunt) with her talking umbrella and unfathomable bag. Jack, the friendly lamplighter—played by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, who brightens every scene he is in—immediately recognizes her, and knows that the Banks problems are about to end.

Mary Poppins takes the chaotic household in hand—though she has little to do with how the Banks family solves its problems. She just seems to be the catalyst for the song sequences—a truly awful one with Meryl Streep as Cousin Topsy, and the wonderful lamplighters’ dance to Trip A Little Light Fantastic, led by Jack (reminiscent of the chimney sweeps’ number Step In Time in earlier film). Marshall managed to get Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury for cameos—the latter clearly meant for Julie Andrews who reportedly turned it down.

The new film gets a little of the charm of the original Robert Stevenson movie, but it seems overdone and synthetic. PL Travers wrote eight Mary Poppins books, so one wonders why it took so long for the beloved nanny to return. Hopefully, there will be another movie and the next time they will get it right.
 

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