Everything old is new again in “Mary Poppins Returns” – including a couple of certified legends: Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury.
Disney calls this movie – which opened Wednesday at the Rialto Theater – a “sequel” to the classic 1964 film. Julie Andrews and Van Dyke starred in the original and 54 years later that familiar story – with a bit of a twist, is as magical as ever.
Emily Blunt is the 2018 Mary Poppins, and while she can’t match Julie Andrews, Blunt delivers a compelling performance. She radiates an edgy, mystical aura.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, best known for “Hamilton” on Broadway, looks right at home on the big screen. Miranda appears an odd choice to play an English handyman named Jack, but despite a forced Cockney accent, he pulls it off.
Miranda even gets to do a 1930s-style English music hall rap number. The climax of this movie, however, revolves around cameos by Van Dyke, 93, and Lansbury, also 93. The real magic of “Mary Poppins Returns” comes when those two are on screen. Van Dyke even does a little jig on top of a desk and Lansbury melts hearts singing “Nowhere to Go But Up.”
The plot involves a grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), whom Mary helped raise. Banks is a recent widower, deeply in debt and trying to keep his three children (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joe Dawson) happy. Michael Banks’ sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), who also grew up with Mary, helps out at home. She has a budding romance with Lin-Manuel.
The kids are running wild and Dad is about to lose everything he owns to a selfish banker (Colin Firth). Then Mary Poppins drops from the sky to set things straight.
She gets help along the way from housekeeper Julie Walters. Meryl Streep nearly steals the film with a gypsy-like, upside-down performance as Cousin Topsy.
This “Poppins” sequel benefits from modern technology and computer generated graphics. The animation sequences and cartoon characters’ interaction with real-life actors are a joy to behold.
The soundtrack captures the musical flavor of the original movie. Director Rob Marshall has a flair for highlighting dynamic dance and musical numbers. Cinematography and set design makes you feel you are walking the streets of 1935 London.
Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman wrote the music and lyrics for such standout production numbers as: “Can You Imagine That,” “The Royal Doulton Music Hall,” “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” and the literally, soaring finale, “Nowhere To Go But Up.”
It’s a demanding chore to follow-up a movie like “Mary Poppins.” Should it fail, the new film could spoil the memories and dampen the meaning of the original. But give Disney credit. The story, filming, set-design, music and acting all add luster to “Mary Poppins’” history.
Blunt explained that the goal wasn’t to recreate the past but to complement it. She wasn’t trying to be Julie Andrews, but a character called Mary Poppins.
“No one wants to see me impersonate Julie Andrews. No one can out-Julie Julie,” Blunt said in a press statement.
“I was initially a bit intimidated just because it’s such iconic territory to walk through. But I think more than anything, I just adored playing her so much,” Blunt added. “I think she’s such an extraordinary character.”
And “Mary Poppins Returns” is an extraordinary movie.
Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.