Mary Poppins Returns
Cast: Emily Blunt, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson, Nathanael Saleh
Director: Rob Marshall
Comparisons are unfair, but the human mind is often tempted to indulge in this, and if they mix and mingle with nostalgia, it becomes quite another trip. And as I watched the latest adventure of the nanny-from-heaven in Mary Poppins Returns, I could not help feeling the urge to walk down memory lane. The first nanny story appeared in 1964 and came from the Walt Disney stable and was helmed by Robert Stevenson. It was just magical, and it made a star out of its lead actress, Julie Andrews – who won the Best Actress Oscar, the film itself garnering five, including one for Best Picture out of the 13 Academy nods. Along with The Sound of Music, Andrews just flew high above the earth, just like the nanny who comes to help the Banks family on London's Cherry Tree Street in 1910.
Although the sequel – Mary Poppins Returns – floats in after 54 years, Rob Marshall's latest outing also from the Disney stable has not travelled much in time. The movie is set in the London of 1930, in economically gloomy times, when making profits even at the cost of cheating someone out of his family home was perhaps common. As does Colin Firth's William Wilkins, the President of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank – who tries to take over Michael Banks' house on 17 Cherry Tree Street. Banks, who works as a teller in the same bank, lives with his three children, Annabel, John and Georgie, and he is mourning the recent loss of his wife. His sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), tries to lend a hand to the family, but the house is all topsy-turvy till, of course, Marry Poppins (Emily Blunt reprising Andrews' role) troops in. Honestly, it is hard to duplicate Andrews' brilliance, and Blunt is great, good, but lacks that magic touch. She just cannot get that twinkle in her eye and the song in her lips, and despite Marshall giving us his best work after Chicago in 2002, his Mary Poppins Returns left me vaguely dissatisfied. But then how many would have seen Mary Poppins' first tryst with the Banks.
So, Marshall's work when viewed without comparative nostalgia, sounds and looks fantastic. There are some magical moments set in the foggy, gas-lamp lit London, the eeriness adding to the mystical quality of the film. Based on the book series by P L Travers, this latest tour with the Banks and Mary begins with a street-lamp lighter, Jack (Lin-Manual Miranda), the closest friend of Miss Poppins, singing “Underneath the Lovely London Sky”. As she floats into the city through the clouds, the moment is mesmeric, and the Banks children look at her with all the wonderment, till she firmly leads them to their house and takes charge, much like Andrews' nanny once did. She teaches the family to awake and shine. Nothing is impossible, and something that has to be done must be done now. All this through some lyrical songs and dances, and there is one with Jack, Mary, Children and others that reminded me of Gene Kelly numbers! There are some lovely scenes – of how the children get lost in the fog and how they are helped by Jack and his innumerable lighter- boys to get back home – while Mary watches with an amused look. Ah, did not Miss Andrew do just that?
Paradoxically, just about everything in Marshall's work is designed to evoke our sense of wistful nostalgia. A song, a plot detail and what have you have all some connect with the 1964 adventure. So in some ways, this Mary Poppins is quite like that Mary Poppins! Except perhaps Miss Blunt, who cannot get that sparkle which we saw in Miss Andrews. And yes, A Spoonful of Sugar and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” They were outrageously original. They were just unforgettable. Mary Poppins on her comeback fails a wee bit to capture that mysticism of a tale set 1910 London.