The Banks children are now grown, and face hard times of their own in Mary Poppins Returns. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) now lives at his boyhood home, and is a widowed father of three children. He works at the bank where his father did, and still gets help around the home from Ellen (Julie Walters), a domestic who had also served his parents. He remains in close touch with his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), a labor activist who lives on her own. In taking over his late wife's household responsibilities, Michael falls behind on repaying a loan he took with his bank. They have, in turn, foreclosed on his residence, giving him just days to repay the loan in full. Bank President William Wilkins (Colin Firth) cuts Michael one small break. He promises to give Michael until midnight on the due date, waiting at his desk for the money. Michael knows he has a shares certificate that will cover the outstanding balance, and he and Jane start looking for that paper.
When Michael's son George (Joel Dawson) goes kite flying, he nearly loses control of the toy. Thankfully, he gets help from Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), who descends from the clouds with the kite and the assurance she'll help the Banks family. With Michael and Jane busy, Mary keeps George and his siblings Annabel (Pixie Davies) and John (Nathanael Saleh) occupied with other activities. They come upon an antique bowl of their mother's they think could help eliminate their debt, but a dispute leads to it getting chipped and cracked. With the help of neighborhood lamplight Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Mary and the children get the damaged bowl to Mary's cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), who promises to fix it. A visit by Mary and the children to the bank uncovers the hope that Michael will fail. The secret to saving the house, though, may lie in papers that George found, as well as in the bank's own records.
Sequels can be a tricky thing, especially when the discussion turns to a sequel to Mary Poppins, one of the most beloved films in Disney history. Mary Poppins Returns, based on the novels of P. L. Travers, captures the spirit of the 1964 movie - and that's the best that viewers can expect, as it as not the equal in terms of entertainment. The story, once again, features a member of the Banks family faces trouble with the bank, which has employed two generations of the family. Mary comes to restore some sense of order, and teach the children a sense of fun, adventure, and responsibility. The screenplay from David Magee (his first since Life Of Pi in 2012) is decent, but lacks a bit of personality, especially with the lack of that in the children. The music of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is enjoyable, even when it uses the melodies of Richard and Robert Sherman, who composed the music from the first movie. Time will tell, though, if the new music will stand the test of time in the way the original music has. Rob Marshall is skilled in directing musicals, such as Chicago and Into The Woods. He succeeds to some extent here, but the cameos from Streep, Dick Van Dyke (as Mr. Dawes, Jr.), and Angela Lansbury (as the Balloon Lady) disrupt the flow of the movie by putting too much focus on the cameo performers.
The lead performers, though, give the movie its greatest appeal. Blunt may look and sound quite a bit like Julie Andrews, but she still manages to make the part her own. Mary certainly knows the worries of the Banks children, but she works to ease their worries without forgetting about them. She also sympathizes with Michael and Jane, though she leaves their work to them. As Mary did the first time at the Banks house, she takes the children on adventures in the city as well as places not on the map. Miranda makes his first prominent appearance on screen and pleases as Jack, a man who knew about Mary through Bert, the chimney sweep for whom he'd once apprenticed. He helps Mary in any way he can, and he also takes interest in the efforts Jane makes to make their working conditions better. Jack always has a good word for anybody he sees, even though he has a job that is the envy of nobody. Whishaw, Mortimer, and Firth do nice work in support. In addition to Van Dyke's return, Karen Dotrice, the Jane Banks of the first movie, makes an appearance as a lady in the Banks' neighborhood.
Mary Poppins Returns is a whole lot of the same with a new generation cast. This second installment makes me think that if a new movie had been made with the original cast years ago, things would never have equaled the movie that Walt Disney himself worked long and hard to try to bring to the screen. Like so many other sequels, I was happy to make the return visit, but this is one that will never live up to the original. Mary Poppins still has plenty of magic besides the ability to travel with the breeze, but she simply shows her skills to a new generation of folks who had previously just heard of her work. It's a treat for the people who never met her, and a welcome return for those who did.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Mary Poppins Returns three stars. Saving another Mr. Banks and his family.
Mary Poppins Returns trailer
© 2018 Pat Mills