“Anything can happen if you let it.” That’s what the Mary Poppin’s stage musical tells us. And Disney let it happen. At a time when Hollywood seems to have run out of original content, with reboots and sequels the name of the game, a follow-up to Mary Poppins was hardly a surprise. As cynical as we may be about the money-making machine that is the film industry, there was still a buzz around the 2015 announcement.
Sure, we just had a new Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and a Jungle Book was on its way. But this is Mary Poppins we are talking about, the magical musical of everyone’s childhood. Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Cherry Tree Lane captured our hearts before, and the world was ready to be enchanted again.
Disney has indeed ‘tripped a little light fantastic,’ because Mary Poppins Returns is everything it should be, and more. This glorious celebration of childhood wonderment is vital viewing. To call it a tribute to the well-loved, family-centric musicals if the 60s would be an insult. It is their equal. It is the Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of this generation. It has just as much right to call itself Mary Poppins as the original does.
There is a star-studded cast. Ben Wishaw (Bright Star) plays, the now adult, Michael Banks. The mind behind and star of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, steps into Dick Van Dyke’s shoes, taking on the role of Jack, the Lamplighter. His cockney accent is just as appalling as Van Dyke’s but frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Three-time Academy Award Winner Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) appears as Mary Poppins’ eccentric cousin, Topsy Turvy. Poppins herself is played by Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria) and is just as prim, proper, proud, vain, wise and caring as she should be.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are responsible for the music and lyrics respectively. The songs are full of character and capture the musical traditions of Hollywood’s golden age. Trip a Little Light Fantastic is bound to get stuck in your head, while the vaudeville joys of A Cover is Not a Book will have you toe-tapping along.
Rob Marshall is the director behind the camera, and hats should be doffed to him. Magic is in abundance, yet it is neither twee or cliché. Hats off to the young Banks children, who – while severely precocious – manage not to grate against the audience but remain charming and delightful.
A Mary Poppins sequel has long been in development. Walt Disney himself had hoped to produce a second instalment immediately after the first, but this was never given the green light by Mary Poppins author P L Travers, despite attempts in the 60s and 80s. What would she make of this new version of her book? Frankly, I couldn’t care less.
There are bike tricks and dance routines with fire torches that will take you right back to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s The Old Bamboo. Animated animals are plentiful, and we are even gifted a song and a dance from the king of the genre himself, Dick Van Dyke, who at the age of 93 still steals the show. Another show-stealer is Angela Lansbury, whose surprise appearance confirms what I always knew: Miss Eglantine Price is a cousin of Mary Poppins.
As for the plot, always a crucial element, it is a classic children’s story. The Banks family are at risk of losing their house. You’ll guess the ending at the start, but that matters not. Marshall manages to instil it with sufficient wonder and create enough tense moments to leave you unsure until the final scenes.
Sure to be a blockbuster, Disney has created a film just as enticing and enduring as the original Mary Poppins.