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In 'Mary Poppins Returns,' The Practically Perfect Nanny Is Back

Dec 19, 2018
Originally published on December 19, 2018 4:14 pm
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She's practically perfect in every way. Obviously we are talking about Mary Poppins, the airborne, umbrella-wielding, supercalifragilistic nanny who has sung her way into the hearts of several generations. Now Disney is bringing her back in "Mary Poppins Returns." Is it all spit-spot? We asked critic Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's decades later, but Cherry Tree Lane still looks picture-perfect. Chimney sweep Bert is off on his travels. But happily, lamplighter Jack is on hand...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: (As Jack) As I live and breathe...

MONDELLO: ...To provide an American version of a Cockney accent and introduce some new kite-flying children to the nanny who floats down from the clouds, umbrella held aloft and not a hair out of place. Jack's played by a chim-chim-cheery Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mary Poppins by a perfectly prim and proper Emily Blunt.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

EMILY BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins) You'll need to be more careful when the wind rises, George. You nearly lost your kite. And you two nearly lost your Georgie. He might have got away completely had I not been holding onto the other end of that string. My goodness, Anabel, what have you done to your clothes? You could grow a garden in that much soil. And John - yes, just as filthy.

PIXIE DAVIES: (As Anabel) How do you know our names?

MIRANDA: (As Jack) 'Cause she's Mary Poppins of course.

MONDELLO: Georgie can hardly wait to get home to tell his dad and Aunt Jane that he was flying a kite and it got caught in a nanny. And they seem just as surprised as he.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

BEN WHISHAW: (As Michael) Mary...

EMILY MORTIMER: (As Jane) Poppins.

BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins) Close your mouth, please, Michael. We are still not a cod fish.

MONDELLO: New turn on an old joke...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

MORTIMER: (As Jane, laughter).

BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins) Jane Banks, still rather inclined to giggle, I see.

MONDELLO: ...Traipsing down memory lane as much as Cherry Tree Lane.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

WHISHAW: (As Michael) Good heavens, it really is you. You seem hardly to have aged at all.

MONDELLO: And the idea here is that we haven't aged either. I mean, we have of course, but "Mary Poppins Returns" is built on the notion that if enough care is taken, the joys that brightened our childhood can be rekindled. And care has definitely been taken. The movie recreates almost beat for beat the moments that enchanted audiences the first time. When Mary Poppins wants kids to do something they regard as a chore, instead of a spoonful of sugar, she uses a bathtub full of suds plus a dolphin.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins) No, not yet.

MONDELLO: But having fun is still the point.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Some people like to splash and play - can you imagine that? - and take a seaside holiday. Can you imagine that? Too much glee leaves rings around the brain. Take that joy, and send it down the drain.

MONDELLO: Song for song, the new film follows the first film's pattern. There's an expialidocious tongue twister with animated characters...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Dilly dynamical, simply ceramical Royal Doulton Hall.

MONDELLO: ...A step-in-time Cockney dance number...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

MIRANDA: (As Jack, singing) As you trip a little light fantastic...

MONDELLO: ...A song that sends a secondary character to the ceiling and another that achieves uplift not by flying a kite but by flying balloons.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

WHISHAW: (As Michael, singing) Now I feel like that boy with a shiny, new toy. And there's nowhere to go but up.

MONDELLO: The tunes are bouncy, the cast hard-working. And if Emily Blunt hasn't got the crystalline high notes Julie Andrews did, she has a winking way with dialogue that's decent compensation. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a gift. There are fun cameos by stars I'll not name so you can discover them yourself. And director Rob Marshall has done a better job of reproducing the rhythms, textures and feel of the original than I'd have dreamed possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins) Everything is possible, even the impossible.

MONDELLO: Point taken. Marshall's managed an impressive job of mimicry sort of like someone staging the touring company of a Broadway show, which I'll bet is already in the works for this one. Given that Disney has lately seemed hell-bent on raiding its library to do far more prosaic things like that digitally overblown live version of "Beauty And The Beast," I have to say I prefer this approach - a sequel that at least goes to the trouble of singing new songs while doing precisely what the original did. Better still would be something that matched the surprise of the original, but that's a tall order when you're making "Mary Poppins Returns."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARY POPPINS RETURNS")

MORTIMER: (As Jane) I thought we'd never see you again.

WHISHAW: (As Michael) It is wonderful to see you.

BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins) Yes, it is. Isn't it?

MONDELLO: It's a little alarming to recall that P.L. Travers wrote eight Mary Poppins books when you consider how much Disney loves franchises. One return is charming, especially in an age when charm is in short supply. More returns - well, in the spirit of the holidays, lets agree to worry about diminishing returns after we've tripped a little light fantastic. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.