Satisfying ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is anything but ‘stuff and nonsense’


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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Ever wonder what it feels like to nest yourself in a comfortable movie theater seat and instantly be transported back to when you were 7 years old and struggling to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? Enter “Mary Poppins Returns.”

Director-producer Rob Marshall’s sequel to the age-old classic is everything one could expect from a contemporary musical set in 1930s London, an era ripe for storytelling and fantasy. It is visually stunning, with a color scheme arguably more gorgeous than even that of 2016’s “La La Land and a female lead who makes playing the titular character — despite having to be compared to Julie Andrews’ iconic original performance — look easy.

The movie marks the return of everyone’s favorite nanny, Mary Poppins, as she sets out to help the families of Jane and Michael Banks, now in adulthood, as they struggle with losing their family home during a time of economic insecurity.

Like its predecessor, “Mary Poppins Returns” has the massively charming trait of promoting imagination and curiosity — qualities that should be essential in movies designed to target a younger population. The Banks children, played by Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson, are guided by Poppins to take on the world — they dream, learn and grow with Poppins’ humble nudges. It is delightful to see them mature as the movie progresses, just as Jane and Michael Banks did in the original “Poppins” film. Accompanied by a beautiful score, many scenes in this film are dedicated to the Banks children and Poppins’ knack for gently driving them to think.

Throughout the film, the color scheme is simple, logical and beautiful, with all the characters on the screen shrouded in black on a gloomy, rainy day, as opposed to them being dressed in every color of the spectrum during an exciting carnival scene that culminates in the characters crowding the sky, hanging on bright balloons. The movie uses its colors to emphasize its themes; it is a monotonous grayscale during scenes at the bank, and bright and colorful in the musical numbers involving Poppins and the Banks children. Toward the end, the colors are almost irritatingly bright and exaggerated (particularly in the aforementioned carnival scene), but they remain logical given the scene’s progression.

As Poppins, Emily Blunt is nothing short of purely empowering. She brilliantly conveys that her character is unflinchingly fierce and confident in the fact that she is more powerful than the ordinary people around her. She enters the movie on a kite — a visual nod to the original film — and maintains the same poise and grace that she carries during her entry throughout the film. At the same time, her performance carries the perfect amount of subtlety — she beautifully blends Poppins’ characteristic of being composed yet hawklike, without overshadowing the deliveries of her co-stars, particularly Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays Jack, and Ben Whishaw, who plays Michael Banks. While her acting isn’t overbearing, Blunt ensures her presence is always felt, even in scenes when she has limited dialogue, such as those in which she silently allows the Banks children to navigate the complex questions and issues they face so they can find solutions.

The music of this movie is an additional key element in the film’s success. Miranda, unsurprisingly, revolutionized the conventionality of the previous film’s soundtrack by introducing rap, and its outcome is spectacular. His experience with theater and musical composition makes his scenes and his performance truly unique — two of his numbers, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and “A Cover Is Not the Book” are prime examples of his extraordinary proficiency in both musicality and performance.

Meanwhile, Meryl Streep, though present for only one song, instantly makes a lasting impression in the entire film. Playing the role of Topsy, Poppins’ cousin, she is a walking prism, wearing every possible color to accompany her accent that nobody can seem to place, and she adds a dash of humor to the movie just when it is needed. That she can execute coordinated choreography while instilling her performance with humor is the stuff of magic.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is nostalgia at its best and warmest. Blunt especially does justice to her role as Poppins, from being a professor of all things joyous and fun to a caring figure who is stern and attentive. Along with the brilliant visual elements and supporting performances, Blunt ensures that the 54-year gap between the two films was well worth the wait.

Contact Anoushka Agrawal at [email protected].