Holiday movie review / ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ (G) ** and a half

HOW the years fly! It’s more than half a century since Julie Andrews played, danced and sang her way through the movie based on PL Travers’ stories about a magic nanny on the way to collecting five Oscars and a big mob of other awards (still getting them in 2013).

The 2018 reprise directed by Rob Marshall, who also helped David Magee and John DeLuca write the screenplay and songs, does not bid fair to repeat that achievement.

Emily Blunt plays Mary Poppins this time, a less rounded, more angular portrayal, with singing and dancing better than I expected but in a lesser league than her predecessor.

Set in the between-wars era, the issue this time is the threat from an uncompromising bank chief executive Wilkins (Colin Firth, having fun playing the bad guy) to foreclose on the mortgage of the Banks family home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane if the full balance of a mortgage has not been paid by the last stroke of midnight as determined by Big Ben, four nights hence.

The Banks family now consists of widower Michael (Ben Whishaw), his children Annabel (Pixie Davis), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer). Michael is a part-time teller at the bank where his father worked and paints pictures when he’s not; Jane is active in the women’s movement. A couple of houses away, a retired admiral (characterised by David Warner) has his servant Binnacle fire a gun on the hour as determined by Big Ben.

Rounding out the principal cast is lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) who begins the film performing a song praising the lovely London sky. There is a lot of umbrellas in the film. It’s that kind of subtlety.

References to the original film are sprinkled through this sequel – the dancing penguins that distressed PL Travers in the original, an oblique homage by balloon-seller Angela Lansbury to the “Feed the Birds” song, an even more oblique cameo by Dick van Dyke as Wilkins’ geriatric predecessor.

The most joyous and talented passage comes when the family takes a chipped Royal Doulton bowl to cousin Topsy whose genius is fixing anything broken. But not even a spectacular song-and-dance routine by Meryl Streep is enough to lift this sequel to the same level as the original.

At all cinemas

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