Mary Poppins Returns

The first thing to make clear with such enterprises, I find, is to state: they didn’t screw it up.

If you loved the original Mary Poppins – and who doesn’t? – this sequel (fully 54 years later – is that the longest gap between original and sequel? Mad Max, the Star Wars, Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps?) will plunge you back into a very similar world, or universe as the Disney franchise machine would have it.

This is a colourful, cheery, easily loveable homage to its predecessor. Its author PL Travers did write several further adventures for the Banks family’s nanny, so we’re not straying into forbidden territory here, more delving back into that famously capacious carpet bag and seeing what else can be pulled out from it and hung on the hatstand.

So it mixes live action with bursts of animation, all with a retro-feel – an episode at bath time leads to a lovely underwater sequence, while a frieze on a valuable vase turns into a circus trip to the Royal Doulton Music Hall for a right old knees up of a song and dance number, with penguins:  “A cover is not the book”.

To bring you up to date, its not really very up to date. London hasn’t changed much since the Edwardian original – as Lin Manuel Miranda’s Jack the lamplighter intones as he goes about his business singing Underneath the Lovely London Skies, chucking apples to cheeky orphans and wishing all and sundry a chirpy good day in an accent that’s classic Hollywood London cockney sing, as pioneered by the original and Oliver!

Jane and Michael Banks have grown up and Michael has turned into Ben Whishaw, which is is almost to say he’s become Paddington  – Julie Walters is even his housekeeper. Jane is Worker’s Right’s champion now, played fetchingly by Emily Mortimer. And now newly-widowed Michael is in trouble for not keeping up payments on a loan from the Bank where Daddy used to work – if only we could find the share certificates proving they had a stake in the Fidelity Fiduciary, now run by a dastardly Colin Firth.

That’s the crisis – the loss of 17 Cherry Tree Lane – into which Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins returns, flying in on her umbrella during a blustery, let’s go fly a kite sort of a London day. Gaping mouths all round – “one is still not a codfish,” she snaps, part Julie Andrews, part Celia Johnson, part Emma Thompson. It’s a lovely performance, although I’d have liked a bit more hint at Mary’s own inner-story and what Jack’s for her might be.

Mary starts putting the house in order and there’s a race against the clock – a very big clock in the shape of Big Ben, of course – to get the papers in time to save the repossession and heaven knows why all the lamplighters come to the rescue with their ladders and bicycles.

But there are some good songs – Trip a Little Light Fantastic, Nowhere To Go But Up and lyrics like “life’s a pea souper, you have to be a trooper, –  and the whole thing is a sweet confection it’s hard to dislike, although I thought Meryl Streep was a bit unnecessary as Madame Topsy, Mary’s cousin.

It looks and feels like great fun, and is generally infectious in that department, particularly as a family film for Christmas, full of balloons, and kites and a  “parky” telling you to keep off the grass…

What you don’t get is a modern-day version, a Marxist re-reading, of Mary the super nanny turning up in, I don’t know, Camden Square to sort out a frazzled working family losing their house in broken Brexit Britain, kids on skunk, electrics cut off, internet down, school fees unpayable, and, maybe, a bunch of helpful, singing Albanian builders digging down in the basement next door. That’s a different film, a good film, perhaps, but not one for just yet – maybe if Mary Poppins turns into Rocky, we might just get there in a few more sequels’ time.

For now, just enjoy a wallow in the old days that never were, a jolly holiday with Mary indeed, to be taken with a spoonful of sugar and the tiniest pinch of salt….