Unlike Julie Andrews, whose career blasted into orbit from virtual unknown to Academy Award-winner with 1964’s Mary Poppins, this winter’s sequel, Mary Poppins Returns could not have been helmed by a nobody. It needed an actress with a spoonful of pre-earned status because its legendary main character, in the half-century since her big-screen debut, has achieved a reputation set in stone. Emily Blunt may well be the best actress for movie musicals that we have. But something more than her lengthy CV (that’s versatile, but includes Into the Woods of the same genre) and English accent made her seem the perfect suitor to play Mary Poppins — and it shows up in the movie. Blunt rekindles Poppins’ energy and charisma for an audience of a new generation. She’s modernized Poppins’ personality, in a way: baffled, she is, when asked about her weight, aghast at the utter assumption that she’s aged. But what’s special is that Blunt, in getting to portray Poppins, is enjoying herself. She’s having fun! Blunt has as much appreciation for the role as you or I and it shows. Poppins, ever bashful about it, certainly feels blessed by her magic, which is not lost on Blunt in her portrayal of her. Blunt is thrilled by it, in that, in one example, when the camera cuts to Poppins during a complicated dance number of the town’s lamplighters (including the universally-likable Lin Manuel Miranda), Blunt, behind the Poppins façade, looks up at the dancers on the lamp posts admiringly — amazed — almost as if thinking, “I can’t believe I’m a part of this,” or, “I’m so happy to be a part of this.”
Poppins’ presence and impact on the story, to no fault of Blunt’s, fades as the film approaches its end. She’s once again come to save papa Banks, though this time it’s Michael all grown up, widowed, with three kids. The magic is lesser then, and the story proves less impacting than the original. Grown-up Jane (Emily Mortimer) is tons of fun, but as I was just sitting through the film’s final musical number, I was wondering why it couldn’t be Mary’s — more over, wishing it was.
Mary Poppins Returns: ★★★