‘Mary Poppins Returns’ — a practically perfect sequel to a Disney classic

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‘Mary Poppins Returns’ — a practically perfect sequel to a Disney classic

courtesy of IMDb

courtesy of IMDb

courtesy of IMDb

Trevor Tyle, Life & Arts Editor

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Julie Andrews is an indisputable queen — everyone knows that. (I mean, have you seenThe Princess Diaries”?)

So, it goes without saying that Emily Blunt had some pretty large shoes to fill when she stepped into one of Andrews’ most iconic roles — Mary Poppins — for last month’s “Mary Poppins Returns.” The character’s eponymous debut film, released in 1964, earned Andrews an Oscar for Best Actress and is considered one of the greatest movie musicals of all-time. So, yes, Emily Blunt is a brave woman, to say the least.

Thankfully, Blunt’s decision was well worth the risk. Andrews is absolutely irreplaceable in the titular role, but after watching “Mary Poppins Returns” twice, I firmly believe that Blunt is literally the only individual that could do even half the justice Andrews did to the character over 50 years ago. From the sturdy vocal chops to the sassy-yet-charming demeanor, the film provides a plethora of moments in which Blunt and Andrews become one and the same, a difficult feat to accomplish.

Taking place in 1930s London, “Mary Poppins Returns” reintroduces us to Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), now an adult with three children — Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Having lost his wife a year prior, Michael gets help from his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) and their longtime housekeeper Ellen (now played by Julie Walters).

The adults quickly become preoccupied, however, when the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank — run by William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) — threatens to repossess their home if Michael cannot pay back a loan he took out within five days. Remembering their father left shares in the bank for them that would cover the loan, Michael and Jane start searching for the shares certificate to prove its authenticity to the bank.

This, of course, leaves the children in need of a nanny (ahem, cue Mary Poppins). Under her care, the children embark on a whimsical adventure unlike any other (well, except maybe that of their father and aunt’s in the first film).

That is perhaps the one true fault of “Mary Poppins Returns.” Its reliance on its predecessor is notably excessive, but it shouldn’t hinder the viewing experience. In fact, some of the callbacks to the original are among the film’s highlights.

One scene in particular should be commended, in which live action and cartoon animation are combined into one visually gorgeous piece of nostalgia reminiscent of the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” number in the original. Yes, it’s probably the most familiar part of the whole movie, but it’s a sequence worth repeating.

“Mary Poppins Returns” also wildly succeeds in the casting department. Though Blunt is the real showstopper, the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda is a close second. Miranda plays Jack, an apprentice of Bert from the original film (Dick Van Dyke, who also makes an extraordinary cameo in this one).

And who could forget the one and only Meryl Streep? She plays Mary’s wacky cousin Topsy and delivers an equally oddball — yet flawless — musical number in a way only Streep could. It’s one of several magnificent musical numbers scattered throughout the film, all of which are just short of being as good as the original.

Though it may not be the strongest of director Rob Marshall’s musical offerings — he also has “Chicago” and “Into the Woods” under his belt — “Mary Poppins Returns” is practically perfect in every way. Its irresistible characters, vivid imagery and toe-tapping musical numbers make it impossible to leave the theater without a smile on your face.

Convincing, captivating and charismatic as ever, Blunt delivers, breathing a whole new life into a truly timeless character we all adore.

Rating: 4/5 stars