‘Mary Poppins Returns’ review: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda are practically perfect

The sequel is director Rob Marshall’s best movie musical since “Chicago.”

Mary Poppins Returns

Directed by Rob Marshall

Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer

Rated PG

It might be more than 50 years since Mary Poppins umbrellaed into our hearts, but she’s as charming and delightful as ever — and still practically perfect in every way.

Emily Blunt takes over as the magical British nanny, a role originated by the great Julie Andrews, which won her the Oscar for best leading actress. Those are some giant (but sensible) heels to fill and Blunt does it with aplomb.

Set 30 years after the first film, Poppins floats back into the life of the Banks family when they’re in need. Fidelity Fiduciary Bank is going to take the family’s home if widowed father Michael (Ben Whishaw) can’t come up with the money. His sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), is there to help.

New York City’s favorite son, Lin-Manuel Miranda, plays Jack. He’s a lamplighter who fills the role of Bert (the classic Dick Van Dyke role, but more on him later), being Mary’s pal and partner in adventure. Together, Mary, Jack and Michael’s trio of adorables (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson) go on colorful jaunts into vivid animated worlds.

That’s a trend here — “Mary Poppins Returns” doesn’t reinvent the wheel. In fact, it sort of just gets the old wheel out again. The overarching plot is the same, with a family in need getting help from Mary while she teaches them all a lesson on what’s really important. They go on magical adventures, which are spectacularly animated using the same techniques from the first film — none of the computer-drawn stuff you see today.

It’s that old-school charm that draws you in and brings up those warm feelings of nostalgia. Blunt is wonderfully cast as Poppins, drawing inspiration from Andrews while adding her own unique quirks. Although Blunt does possess a pleasing, confident voice, she doesn’t quite have Andrews’ singing ability. But, really, who does? Miranda is incredibly (and unsurprisingly) likable as Jack, and employs his singing and dancing background to great effect here.

Director Rob Marshall delivers his best movie musical since 2002’s “Chicago.” It’s a  endeavor with major performances that incorporate numerous moving pieces, all of it sometimes built upon massive animated scenes.

Marc Shaiman provides the music and score for “Mary Poppins Returns,” and co-wrote the lyrics with Scott Wittman. The Tony-winning duo for “Hairspray” bring a modern sensibility to the music. Time will tell if these songs hit the pantheon of the original’s Sherman Brothers’ tracks like “Chim Chim Cher-ee” or “A Spoonful of Sugar,” but that is a lofty and probably unfair standard to judge these songs against. “A Cover is not the Book” is a real showstopper — which awesomely utilizes Miranda’s machine gun delivery — as is the watery “Can You Imagine That?”

As for Van Dyke, he does show up in the film, and it’s more than just a little cameo. The 93-year-old certified Disney legend is as fresh as ever, singing, dancing and stealing scenes.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is the kind of grand musical that Hollywood doesn’t really make anymore, which is a shame. Blunt, Miranda and Marshall certainly make a good case for the genre, with delightful songs and a more than a spoonful of charm.

Scott A. Rosenberg