“I can’t lose our home, Jane,” Michael frets.
That thread, however, is dangled and then dropped for long stretches, as Mary goes about bringing her special brand of nanny magic to her young charges. Like Julie Andrews before her (and not incidentally, even closer to the slightly darker stage version), her Mary is both mysterious and frequently exasperated, bringing an elfish charm to the festivities, and a fine voice to the music.
Miranda, similarly, is no slouch, occupying what amounts to the Dick Van Dyke role as Mary’s cheerful sidekick in the kids’ fantastic adventures. That said, when the real Van Dyke shows up in what feels like a too-brief cameo, it provides the movie with an enormous jolt of energy that had been conspicuously lacking — so much so that you wish the actor and his fellow nonagenarian, Angela Lansbury, would hang around a bit longer.
Director Rob Marshall’s credits include the Oscar-winning “Chicago” and “Into the Woods,” so he’s no stranger to bringing musicals to the screen. In that regard, there’s something decidedly old-fashioned about “Mary Poppins Returns” and its unapologetic approach to the genre that many will find at the least comforting, and at best thrilling, if only to re-experience such entertainment with new generations on a big screen.
Disney, of course, has already unearthed plenty of gold from its vaults, reviving and remaking various family properties, which has included transforming animated classics into live-action extravaganzas.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is well worth seeing. But the live-action movies pose a somewhat more complicated challenge, one that even the title character — with all the tricks up her sleeve — can’t entirely pull off.
“Mary Poppins Returns” premieres Dec. 19 in the US. It’s rated PG.