‘Mary Poppins Returns’ wins with good music, tons of charm

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For the second time in less than six months, Disney has given us a story of a beloved figure from a character’s childhood returning to said character’s life at a time filled with sadness. In both “Christopher Robin” and the newly-released “Mary Poppins Returns,” elements of the fantastic spill over into the real world, as downtrodden protagonists rediscover the magic of their childhoods.

It’s just that “Poppins” does so with more charm and a bunch of infectious musical numbers.

“Mary Poppins Returns” finds a grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), a child in the original film, on the verge of losing his childhood home. Into this dark and stressful time, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) reenters his life to help with Michael’s children as he and sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), search for paperwork that will help them keep their home.

That’s a rather brief summary of this movie’s plot, but rest assured, there are magical, musical adventures aplenty. There’s also Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a handsome lamplighter, an evil banker, and a few life lessons learned. A few surprises even pop up. “Poppins” has just about everything you could want in a family film, except maybe snarky robots.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is awash in charm, and much of it comes from Blunt. You couldn’t pick a better actor to pull off a current-day incarnation of the classic character. Blunt is stern and proper while exuding warmth at the same time. She’s witty and whip-smart and always ready with a word of wise advice.

Blunt gets plenty of help from her fellow cast members. Whishaw is pitch perfect as a man who has had to be strong but is on the verge of falling to pieces. Miranda and Mortimer are both engaging and delight in their scenes together. Colin Firth is perfect as a stuffy, greedy banker. Even the kids in this movie are excellent and supply plenty of charm themselves. I’m hard-pressed to think of a weak link in the cast.

This movie’s charms don’t all come from the cast. Like the original “Poppins” film, this movie mixes live-action with animated sequences. The animation style and characters look like classic Disney cell-animated fare. The live-action footage runs the gamut from looking like something out a mist-shrouded dream to colorful vistas filled with flower blossoms, balloons, and cotton-candy clouds. If the actors charm your hearts, the visuals charm your eyes.

Speaking of charms, the music in “Mary Poppins Returns” charms the ears. Although the film doesn’t lean on music from the original film, these songs are catchy enough that you can sing along after a verse or two. The music by Marc Shaiman (with songs by Scott Wittman and Shaiman) can be raucous, as on “A Cover is Not the Book”, hopeful, like “Nowhere To Go but Up”, and even gentle, as on “The Place Where the Lost Things Go.” The songs are simply excellent.

Director Rob Marshall pairs these songs with some entrancing choreography for magical musical numbers. From an undersea adventure in a bathtub to a sequence featuring dancing lamplighters that explodes into bicycle acrobatics that would be totally at home at the X Games. Marshall, who was nominated for an Oscar for “Chicago,” was a wise choice to handle this film and he captures small, emotional scenes and epic dance numbers equally adeptly.

“Mary Poppins Returns” isn’t flawless. It spends a lot of time going down plot roads that don’t go anywhere. Some of the characters aren’t terribly compelling as written. But this movie is so utterly charming and so full of wonderful music that they get lost. “Mary Poppins Returns” is a perfect holiday treat for families and music lovers alike.

4 Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: pg

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Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.