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Review: Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall)

Joel Dawson, Emily Blunt, Pixie Davies and Nathanael Saleh in Mary Poppins Returns

There's nowhere to go but up! Sacrilegious though it may now be to admit, I've never been a big fan of 1964's Mary Poppins, though I certainly don't hate it, and damn it if I wasn't a little too excited for a sequel. I can't quite say what my expectations were, and thus neither whether they were met or not, but I can say with full certainty that, some notable quibbles aside, I'm a big fan of that sequel, and know that another 54-year wait will be entirely worth it if this trajectory is true. There's nowhere to go but up!

I shall now list those quibbles, because though they may temper my enthusiasm for Mary Poppins Returns as they tempered my enjoyment while watching it, they do not obstruct the sheer wondrous joy that this movie inspires in me upon recollection. Quibble #1: Lin-Manuel Miranda is an irritant, and a triple non-threat. His singing is limited, his acting occasionally atrocious, his dancing mediocre compared to his counterparts. Quibble #2: There is a breakout star in this ensemble, though they are unfortunately accompanied by two dud performers, whose wooden turns are thankfully swiftly forgotten once the pic moves onto better, brighter things. I won't name them, because that wouldn't be nice. Quibble #3: The plotlessness of the 1964 pic irked me; attempts at devising a plot for the 2018 pic irk me equally. It's perfunctory and wholly predictable, and the whole thing sags terribly when it takes hold. Quibble #4: Trip A Little Light Fantastic may be a popular number, but it's not a good one. Musically, it's average. Conceptually, it's derivative. Lyrically, it's heinous, and I never again want to hear anything about 'speaking Limey'. Quibble #5: Talent gets wasted here, as neither of the cast's marvellous Emilys gets nearly enough to do, and that really is a problem when one of them is playing none other than Mary Poppins...

And yet she's magnificent. Emily Blunt is the flipside to Miranda's triple non-threat, and an unfathomably engaging screen presence. This we already knew, yet it's rarely been more evident than here, in a movie that sparkles every time she's on screen, and stoops every time she's not. Most of Mary Poppins Returns' principle pleasures arise through her, whether directly or indirectly, and/or through the contribution of composer Marc Shaiman. The score to this movie is a true triumph, an orchestral wonder brimful of the kind of creative genius that once begat classic after classic of movie musical, of which Mary Poppins was one of the stragglers. Set aside those quibbles and there's just so very much to love about Returns, so much that setting those quibbles aside is astonishingly easy. An animated sequence would evoke genuine nostalgia if it weren't so gleefully assembled, and instead evokes fond reminiscence, as the whole enterprise mostly successfully achieves from scene to scene, from one superb musical number to the next. It's far from perfect, yet closer to it than the original, and Returns' best soars up, up, up to the highest heights of what movie musicals can accomplish, and what they haven't accomplished for far too long.

Image Credit: MovieStillsDB

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