Mary Poppins Returns, directed by Rob Marshall and parading a drove of A-listers, is an almost uncanny reproduction of the original.
The piece is set 25 years post the 1964 original, in Britain’s interwar depression in the 1930s. Little Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) Banks are all grown up and still remain as close as ever, Jane acting somewhat as a pseudo-wife for widower Michael who lost the mother to his three children, a year previous. The pair band together after Michael is given but a few days to pay back an ill-considered loan he took out – a strife which feels slightly lacking in urgency to warrant the return of their childhood nanny. Nevertheless, Mary Poppins 2.0 played with nostalgic charm by Emily Blunt, descends, feet in first, and just in time to save the three children from, well, not a lot. The children seem admirably independent and balanced despite the loss of their mother and the only real problem lies with a lost document which the family aimlessly search for for over a week.
Mary hasn’t aged despite the generation shift and as with every detail surrounding this iconic heroine nothing is explained. Blunt voices Poppins with a rather on the nose RP accent which at first provides a pleasant nod to the beloved Julie Andrews‘ characterisation of the role in the film that debuted her, but which eventually becomes grating. Aside from this, there is something more human to Mary this time around. The development in picture quality displays her ‘practically perfect’ features in a frame which is less blurred into porcelain smoothness. But not only this: there are moments in the film where we see beyond the confident aloofness of this gutsy childminder. She accepts a flurry of comments exclaiming her agelessness but catches herself in the mirror and strokes her skin, a moment of contemplation which feels alien for such a mythical being – like a robot considering themselves. However, before things get too deep, Mary is once again swept up in a glossy musical number and never again do we see such reflection.
The songs are so distinctly aimed for an emulation of the original, there is something which feels a bit bootleg about them. ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ becomes the soft and considerably less haunting ‘(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky’, ‘Can You Imagine That?’ is a lively take on ’A Spoonful of Sugar’ and ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ translates to ‘Turning Turtle’, a rather left-field number led by Mary’s cousin, Topsy, played by none other than Meryl Streep. And she is not the only impressive cameo…
What salvages the songs from sounding like knocked up riffs on the timeless masterpieces, is the animation which accompanies them. Marshall honours the 60s lack of CGI by surrounding the actors with vibrant 2D landscapes – quartet of singing penguins included – just like the original.
The Banks children, played gorgeously by Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and the Prince-George-esque Joel Dawson, are accompanied by Julie Walters, playing the cantankerous maid, together with Whishaw alluding to Paddington Bear.
Some of the most wholesome moments in the story are when Jack (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda) rides Mary and the children on his bike, as they precariously perch on a perpendicular ladder. The romance between Jack and Jane feels a little tacked on but I suppose matures the concept along with the characters.
It is good to pop in and see old faces, even if, in Mary’s case, those faces haven’t aged at all. However, this sequel feels more like a re-make and although heart-warming, seems a little pointless. It is often argued that classics should be left untouched and those points may well find ground in this highly budgeted nostalgia breeding musical beast.
Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten
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