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Movie review: Nanny dearest: ‘Poppins returns’

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    Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Blunt, Pixie Davies, “Mary Poppins Returns”

Published January 03. 2019 12:57PM

“Mary Poppins Returns” isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

Nor is it as good as I wanted it to be.

“Pish posh,” as Mary Poppins might say.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is the near-perfect 2018 holiday season release.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is paced by a terrific performance by Emily Blunt as the nanny Mary Poppins.

It also features a great performance by Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the Lamplighter.

There are fine supporting performances, including Ben Whishaw as the widower-husband, Michael Banks; Emily Mortimer as Jane, Michael Banks’ sister, and Pixie Davies as Annabel, Nathanael Saleh as John, and Joel Dawson as Georgie, Michael Banks’ three Banks children.

Julie Walters is Ellen, the Banks’ household maid. Colin Firth is president of the bank that is foreclosing on the Banks’ home.

Meryl Streep is Topsy, Mary Poppins’ cousin. Streep is in one production number, “Turning Turtle,” where she sings and dances in what, while not an altogether bad scene, is superfluous and is more a matter of stunt-casting.

Speaking of stunt-casting, there are nice cameos by Dick Van Dyke, who played Bert in the original “Mary Poppins, as Mr. Dawes Jr., chairman of the bank, and Angela Lansbury, as the Balloon Lady, who sells balloons in a park. The Balloon Lady was not in the 1964 Disney “Mary Poppins,” but was in the 1934 “Mary Poppins” novel by P.L. Travers.

Van Dyke, 93, shows off his apparently still-spry dancing chops. Lansbury, 93, shows off her still lovely singing voice in “Nowhere to Go But Up.”

Look for a supporting actress Oscar nomination for Lansbury and a supporting actor nomination for Van Dyke.

David Warner plays Admiral Boom, the Banks’ daft neighbor. Jim Norton is Mr. Binnacle, Boom’s assistant. Their scenes nearly sink the movie’s flow and could have been jettisoned.

“Mary Poppins Returns,” which takes place in London during the Great Depression and about 25 years after the setting of the original “Mary Poppins” movie, is all-singing and all-dancing. It’s really a Broadway show on film (with a Disney stage musical spinoff likely). This is apparent from the great opening number, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky,” sung by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s also tremendous in several big choreography numbers, notably “Royal Doulton Music Hall.”

Emily Blunt sounds fine singing several songs, especially “Can You Imagine That.” She’s a great casting choice as Mary Poppins.

She doesn’t so much as make you forget Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in the original 1964 movie musical, as make the part her own, giving a different, understated and completely believable performance. Look for an Oscar actress nomination for Blunt.

“Mary Poppins Returns” harks back to the original Disney film in its combination of live-action and animated characters. In most scenes, the 2D, or hand-drawn animation style circa “Lady and the Tramp” (1955) and “101 Dalmatians” (1961) is used.

The animated Royal Doulton Bowl sequence has a carriage chase scene, a la a train chase scene from a classic western movie, that involves a wolf, weasel and badger and the Banks children. It’s a dizzyingly entertaining sequence. Séamus the Coachman is voiced by Chris O’Dowd. Clyde the Horse is voiced by Mark Addy.

The sequence of the Banks children and Mary Poppins disappearing in a bathtub and into an ocean underwater scene with contemporary CGI animation doesn’t work as well.

Mary Poppins’ talking Parrot Umbrella (voiced by Edward Hibbert) is great fun. Oh, and by the way, there are animated penguin characters.

For some reason, the animation is front-loaded and doesn’t appear prominently in the film’s final third.

“Mary Poppins Returns” glides on great songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, rather than the storyline. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” “Can You Imagine That,” “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and “A Cover Is Not a Book” are among the instant classics. Look for an Oscar song nomination for one of them.

The “leery speak” (a kind of cockney slang) is mind-boggling.

No songs written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman from the original “Mary Poppins” movie are sung, but instrumental snippets of them are heard, including “A Spoonful of Sugar.”

“Mary Poppins Returns” is directed by Rob Marshall (Oscar nominee, director, “Chicago,” 2002, and director, “Nine,” “Into the Woods”) from a screenplay by David Magee (Oscar nominee, screenplay, “Life of Pi”; screenwriter, “Finding Neverland”) from a story by Magee, Marshall and John DeLuca (theatrical feature story debut) based on “Mary Poppins” and its seven sequels by P.L. Travers. The character of Jack the Lamplighter was created for “Mary Poppins Returns.”

The cinematography is by Dion Beebe (Oscar recipient, cinematography, “Memoirs of a Geisha,” 2005; Oscar nominee, cinematography, “Chicago,” 2002). The production design is by John Myhre (Oscar recipient, art direction, “Nine,” 2009; Oscar recipient, art direction, “Memoirs of a Geisha”; Oscar recipient, art direction, “Chicago”). Costume design is by Sandy Powell (Oscar recipient, costume design, “The Young Victoria,” 2009; Oscar recipient, costume design, “Aviator,” 2004 Oscar recipient, costume design, Shakespeare In Love,” 1998).

“Mary Poppins Returns” is a Disney film in the House of Mouse tradition. It’s a movie that will delight young and old. There’s so much to see in it, you might want to see it twice. I know I do.

“Mary Poppins Returns,” MPAA Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action; Genre: Musical, Comedy, Animation; Run time: 2 hrs., 10 mins. Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: In the “Mary Poppins Returns” reprisal of a credits gag from the original “Mary Poppins,” Dick Van Dyke is credited as “Nackvid Keyd,” and then the credits unscramble to state his name.

Unreel, Jan. 4:

“Escape Room,” PG-13: Adam Robitel directs Deborah Ann Woll, Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine and Logan Miller in the Sci-Fi Thriller. Strangers use their wits to survive.

“Great Great Great,” No MPAA Rating: Adam Garnet Jones directs Sarah Kolasky, Dan Beirne, Richard Clarkin and Meredith Cheesbrough in the Drama. A couple’s plan to get engaged causes problems.

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