Film review: Mary Poppins Returns is two hours of pure, sentiment-soaked escapism
Affectionately harking back to the 1964 Julie Andrews classic, Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt, will provide two hours of joyous, sentiment-soaked escapism for families over the Christmas holidays, writes Damon Smith
A SPOONFUL of nostalgia – make that several heaped spoonfuls – helps the joy-infused medicine of Rob Marshall's 1930s-set musical fantasy go down in the most delightful way.
Based on the books by PL Travers, Mary Poppins Returns prescribes two hours of pure, sentiment-soaked escapism to banish the winter blues and jiggedy-jog our weary souls.
It's a lavishly staged carousel of whoop-inducing song and dance numbers that kicks up its polished heels in the face of cynicism and affectionately harks back to the 1964 Oscar-winning classic directed by Robert Stevenson.
Musical refrains from Chim Chim Cher-ee, Let's Go Fly A Kite and The Perfect Nanny among others are seamlessly woven into the lustrous fabric of Marshall's lavishly embroidered picture.
Plot threads are admittedly gossamer thin and noticeably frayed in places.
Karen Dotrice, who played Jane Banks in the original, has a lovely cameo as an elegant lady in search of 19 Cherry Tree Lane and Dick Van Dyke proves he can still step in time as chairman of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.
Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way, making her entrance with a reverential nod to Julie Andrews – "Close your mouth, Michael. We are still not a codfish!" – as the London-born actress makes this iteration of the role her own with effortless efficiency.
A new songbook by composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman, writers of the Hairspray and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory stage musicals, lacks the immediately hummable melodies conjured by Oscar winners Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman. However, when ditties hit their emotional mark, they are spit spot on.
A father's heartwrenching lament to his late wife is delivered with tearful restraint by Ben Whishaw, while Meryl Streep – with an east European accent of hysterically indecipherable origin – literally swings from a chandelier during her scene-stealing solo, Turning Turtle.
It has been a year since Michael Banks (Whishaw) lost his wife Kate, and with it the light in his heart to guide their children Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson).
His rabble-rousing sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) is helping to care for the brood but the grief-stricken father is three months in arrears on a bank loan secured against 17 Cherry Tree Lane.
Unless Michael can repay his dues in full by the end of the week, the house will be seized by bank chairman William Wilkins (Colin Firth) and the family, including clucky housemaid Ellen (Julie Walters), will be homeless on the fog-shrouded streets of London.
Thankfully, a high-flying kite snags magical nanny Mary Poppins (Blunt), who descends serenely with toes pointing out to rekindle sparks of joy in her former wards.
She is aided by luminous Cockney lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Topsy (Meryl Streep), her eccentric "second cousin... many times removed".
Before you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Marshall has us grinning ear to ear as we accompany the Banks clan on their fantastical odyssey, which includes one euphoric sequence festooned with hand-drawn animation.
The sequel's centrepiece, Trip The Light Fantastic, is modelled on Step In Time with its acrobatic troupe of lamplighters and syncopated choreography and the aptly titled Nowhere To Go But Up soars courtesy of Angela Lansbury.
Last year, we bathed in the giddy glow of The Greatest Showman. This Christmas and beyond, it's an exceedingly jolly 'oliday with Mary Poppins Returns.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS (U, 130 mins) Musical/Fantasy/Adventure/Romance. Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke. Director: Rob Marshall
Released: December 21 (UK & Ireland)