Disney’s new venture to modernise and reintroduce famous characters to younger audiences and bring nostalgia to everyone else is certainly a great money making scheme. With the likes of Beauty and the beast and Maleficent; Mary Poppins (directed by Rob Marshall) is also one to undergo a transformation as this iconic magical nanny comes floating back onto our screens.
Julie Andrews’ career defining character was now replaced by Emily Blunt, who was accompanied by Lin Manuel Miranda as Jack, a lamplighter who was said to have apprenticed Bert in his younger years. Screenwriter David Magee had big shoes to fill, but only really half did the job. The storyline was fairly weak and unoriginal, with the Banks’ children grown up and not even shining a glimpse of their exhilarating childhood left inside of them. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), a widow and father to three independent children now face being evicted from their homes unless they find lost documents. Along the way, Mary Poppins appears, Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) falls in love whilst the bank’s corrupt chairman, William Wilkins (Colin Firth), sabotages the plot.
Despite the feeble script, Blunt did an exceptional task at putting herself aside from Julie Andrews. Her accent was now more received and much sterner. All in all, the magic of Mary Poppins remained the same with the numerous times she looked into the mirror, the magic of tidying up as well as pulling ridiculously large items out of her doctors bag. That’s not to say that Blunt didn’t add her own touches. With her ever pointed out toes, conversations becoming more sarcastic and cheekier, Blunt really showed how versatile of an actress she can really be. Miranda’s performance as Jack was also delivered very well. His experience in theatre and complicated choreography paid off well as he used the stage to the fullest of his abilities, using Dick Van Dyke’s original as inspiration. The film, as always, broke away from traditional separations between class as the fate of the working class lamplighter was to fall in love with Jane Banks. Although Miranda’s take on a cockney accent was interesting, it can be argued that his performance was certainly a touch more friendly than Van Dyke’s original.
The music in the original 1964 film was certainly memorable, with ‘step in time’, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, ‘a spoon full of sugar’ and ‘chimchim cher-ee’, written and composed by the Sherman brothers and all being nominated or winning academy awards. Unfortunately, there weren’t any of those in the remake and its fair to say that although the songs were catchy, they were certainly forgettable. The 2018 soundtrack consisted of ‘A Conversation’, ‘Can you imagine that’, ‘ The royal Doulton music hall’, ‘A cover is not a book’, ‘Turning Turtle’ and ‘Trip a little light fantastic’. With some of them containing euphemisms and dramatic choreography, they could have been just as unique and wonderful as the original. Although the performance of each song was visually entertaining, composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman failed to take a risk and capture the weirdness and originality of the Sherman brothers. From Michael Banks’ melancholy solo in ‘A Conversation’ to the theatre scene in ‘A cover is not a book’, the detail in the set and costumes was practically perfect in every way. Like the original, there were collaborative scenes between animation and real life such as the ceramic pot where costumes designed by Sandy Powell were made to look hand painted with extreme precision.
The use of CGI was done very effectively as there was more magic in the bathtub scene than in the entirety of the film itself. It consists of Blunt performing her own stunts by falling backwards into a bathtub which leads to a sea of creatures. Another song with brilliant stunts and choreography was ‘Trip a little light fantastic’, equivalent to ‘Step in time’. With the same simulatenous choreography, with all the lamplighters standing on a ledge, dancing under the moonlight.
There were many cameos from actors from the 1964 edition. With Karen Dotrice (old Jane Banks), making a short appearance where she plays an elderly lady asking for directions. Another cameo we see is Dick Van Dyke himself who plays Mr Dawes senior, the uncle of the corrupt bank chairman. Both acts were not necessary to the story and did not add any depth, however, seeing old familiar faces gave a definite sense of nostalgia. There was also an appearance from Meryl Streep, who played Mary Poppins’ eccentric cousin. Streep is not a novice for playing unusual characters and her role as cousin Topsy did not disappoint.
Although many people were sceptical of the remake of Mary Poppins, it’s fair to say that Marshall made a good attempt in providing magic for the younger generation. It did not live up to the 1964 version and certainly did not require villains. However, the emotional depth that lacked in the first film was added here, with subjects such as struggles with money and grieving that were touched upon. As always, Mary Poppins provided hope and made sure to teach the lesson to put family before anything. Now its time to wait half a century for Poppins’ next venture.