This movie gets the award for being the longest sequel ever made from its original film. 54 years ago. Wow. Not to mention the fact that Dick Van Dyke is (sorta) reprising his role as an elderly banker! Being a pro-Disney fan yet an anti-sequel film critic set up a curious juxtaposition: should this movie have been made? Let’s see…
*Note: required watching and prior knowledge of the original 1964 Mary Poppins movie is required or else you really won’t enjoy/understand this film. If you DID see the original, we last saw the magical nanny, Mary Poppins, flying off into the clouds as the family Banks had reconciled their problems and became a happy family again. That was 1910 in jolly ol’ England. Fast-forward to 1930 and we’re back at 17 Cherry Tree Lane where the Banks children are grown up and have got problems of their own. Widowed Michael (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) are broke and facing eviction from the very place where Michael works, the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.
But there’s a glimmer of hope if they can find a lost McGuffin… sorry, a lost bank share certificate somewhere in the house. Michael’s children, lovable Annabel (Pixie Davies), sensible John (Nathanael Saleh) and excitable Georgie (Joel Dawson) want to help and, with the help of local lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), they conjure up the nanny that showed up years ago–Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt). Arriving on a kite string, she ingratiates herself into the Banks household and soon the magic (and singing & dancing) commence.
In-between the dazzling animation & live action musical numbers (Can You Imagine That?, The Royal Doulton Music Hall, and the impressive A Cover is Not the Book), all is not going well for Michael as he struggles with the dastardly bank president, Mr. William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) to get more time to pay off the mortgage. Meanwhile, the kids, Mary, and Jack pop into Topsy’s (Meryl Streep), Mary’s eccentric cousin to get a very special chipped McGuffin… sorry, I mean a china bowl fixed. Mary, still narcissistic and cracking-wise, joins in with radiant effervescence in the glorious show-stopper, Trip a Little Light Fantastic, featuring bicycles and wild Newsies-like choreography.
There’s the happy ending, of course, and a jaw-dropping performance by 93-year-old (OMG!!) Van Dyke who sings and dances… which alone is worth the price of admission! Screenwriter David McGee (Finding Neverland) knew his source material well; keeping the magical whimsy alive while adding dark overtones of loss, frustration, and despair. A delicate balance to be sure, but McGee found it, catering to both kids and adults alike. The dialogue is crisp, flavored, and has fun with the British language, but none of this means a thing if you don’t have a damn fine director to bring it to life, and Rob Marshall (Chicago) is at the helm to bring it home.
Besides an ace behind the camera, he’s also a fearless choreographer; just watch his electric choreo in A Cover is Not the Book and the crazy Trip a Little Light Fantastic, and you’ll see what I mean. The man knows how to shoot a musical better than anybody. But let’s not forget that cast, shall we? Julie Andrews does not appear because she wanted Blunt to shine, and shine she does with all the beauty, grace, and swagger of Andrews, including a voice and acting prowess to match.
Miranda (with a great Cockney accent!) is excellent and sings like he was having the time of his life. Whishaw is scary good as the patriarch of the family who realizes he’s turning into his straight-laced dad. And the kids are NOT the cutsie-kind that you see on the Disney Channel. They are polished, grounded, and have a realistic feel to them. The only downside to this lengthy 2 hrs and 12 min movie is just that – the length. It seems you’re no sooner out of one musical number that you’re right into another. Now don’t get me wrong, the songs, animation, and dancing are all extraordinary and reminded me of the original film, but really, OVER two hours? I think they could have trimmed it bit and saved the rest for the DVD ‘special features’ section.
After yet another nanny leaves, Mr. Banks advertises for a stern, no-nonsense nanny, but Jane and Michael want a kinder, sweeter one instead. The next day a strong gust of wind blows away all the applicants and, descending from the sky using an umbrella, is Mary Poppins (a radiant Julie Andrews) who promptly hires herself, despite Mr. Banks puzzle-ment. One thing is for sure, the kids are in for a surprise! This nanny must’ve graduated from Hogwarts because she’s got magic in her fingertips. She’s also vain, cock-sure, and can sing like an angel.
From there, the adventures begin: the kids, Mary, and Bert, get zapped into one of Bert’s chalk drawings, they meet floating Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn), who has uncontrollable laughter, and they feed some hungry pigeons. But Mr. Banks, thinking Mary is becoming too clingy, takes his children to his work, only to have it backfire on him as the super-old and crotchety Mr. Dawes, Sr. (Van Dyke again) grabs a coin from Michael, leading to utter chaos and a run on the bank!
Mr. Banks is fired, but in doing so, learns a valuable lesson about life and family. Mary leaves, floating up into he sky, knowing that her work is done and that the Banks family is in good hands. Adapting Travers books into this screenplay was NOT an easy thing (watch Saving Mr. Banks), but Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi did (and spent many a sleepless night doing it!). Robert Stevenson, a stalwart Disney director (The Love Bug, Bednobs & Broomsticks) knew his craft well and delivered one of THE most iconic musicals of all times. And don’t forget the incredible Sherman Brothers and their heart-warming and decades-old earworm songs.
This movie has stood the test of time and is incredibly enjoyable, from the fun-filled and electric Step In Time dance number up on the rooftops to the unbelievably catchy, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Speaking of which, the soundtrack album won TWO Grammys! Did you know that 13 additional songs were deleted from the movie? True!
Andrews and Van Dyke, perfectly cast, were a matched set and lit up the screen, despite the fact that Van Dyke couldn’t hold his British accent. But the man could dance!
Tasty Trivia: Travers was NOT invited to the premiere of the movie, but came anyway. She saw the movie and then demanded all the animation be cut from the film!