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Mary Poppins Returns


Stars: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, David Warner, Julie Walters, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Jeremy Swift. Voices: Chris O'Dowd, Mark Addy

Director: Rob Marshall

Thunderously derivative of the iconic 1964 fantasy-musical starring Julie Andrews, this belated sequel is set some 25 years later with Britain in the grip of the Depression. Michael Banks (Whishaw, channeling David Tomlinson but sounding like a plaintive Paddington) is a widower with three children whose house is about to be repossessed unless he can find an elusive share document.

When his youngest, Georgie (Dawson), flies an old kite with the help of his friend, lamplighter Jack (Miranda, with a strange-sounding cockney accent only marginally better than Dick Van Dyke's), they spot a figure descending from the skies. It is, of course, the Poppins herself (a willing if slightly unrelaxed Blunt), although, since she fails to find the share certificate and the Banks children are hardly out of hand, her purpose is not immediately obvious; but perhaps to make Michael smile again, and stop mooning over his dead wife.

And so we have further adventures in cartoonland, lamplighters dancing instead of sweeps, Mary Poppins letting her hair down in a rowdy song and dance, and further shenanigans at the bank, bleakly bossed by Firth, who is determined to foreclose on 17 Cherry Tree Lane and burns the records of Michael's father's share purchase.

There are some undersea fol-de-rols as well, reminiscent of those in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, whose star, Angela Lansbury, makes an excruciating late appearance as a little old balloon woman (rather than a little old birdwoman). And the children fly balloons instead of kites at the end. Probably next time, against a backdrop of Brexit, Mary will be surrounded by whirling Soho tuk-tuks whose drivers dance on their canopies.

As for the performances, the children are truly average cute movie kids, Meryl Streep does a self-admiring cameo as Mary's Russian cousin, Van Dyke himself, at 93, is the doddering but dancing bank president Dawes Jr and there's even a cameo for Karen Dotrice, the original Jane Banks (now a feisty Mortimer), as a lady asking the way in Cherry Tree Lane. And there are token roles for black players, as the likes of milkman, bailiff and bank secretary, none of whom, of course, would be around in the early 1930s. Here, they stick out like sore thumbs.

Miranda, though, apart from the cockney, is rather good as Jack, creating a genuine and warm personality, and the dances are precision-tooled even if they do lack the sheer exhilaration of the original.

The songs, with the possible exception of the opening London Sky, are unmemorable. I came away humming songs from the original, which is a criticism in itself. But it's bright, colourful, lively and decently paced and children who haven't seen the 1964 film (are there any?) will almost certainly like it. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, however, it is not.

David Quinlan

USA 2018. UK Distributor: Disney. Technicolor.
131 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Dec 2018