MOVIE REVIEW: A practically perfect sequel
IF THERE was one classic Disney film that celebrated the imagination and playfulness of childhood above all others, then it was Mary Poppins.
That spirit has been lovingly preserved, and updated, in the long-awaited sequel Mary Poppins Returns.
Now before you groan and think 'Oh no not another sequel', remember it has been more than half a century since Julie Andrews brought author PL Travers' magical nanny to life on the big screen.
Unlike the plethora of life-action remakes that are currently en vogue - Disney has The Lion King, Aladdin and Dumbo coming out next year as well a half a dozen others in the works - this is a true sequel with a new story and songs.
We return to Cherry Tree Lane to find the Banks children have grown up and Michael has three children of his own while Jane is a plucky social rights campaigner.
The family is on struggle street after the death of Michael's wife and some bad financial decisions mean they could lose the beloved family home.
No sooner does a notice of repossession get nailed to the front door than a gust of wind blows in former nanny Mary Poppins, played practically perfectly by Emily Blunt.
Her magical touches transfix a new generation of Banks children (John, Anabel and Georgie) and with the help of lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), she delicately guides the family back on track.
It's easy to forgive the film for following a similar formula as the original. Many of the same characters are back, after all, and things in London haven't changed that much.
When Harry Met Sally, Sister Act, Sleepless in Seattle) and lyricist Scott Wittman deliver a score of new songs which stay true to the original without feeling like try-hard copies.
Let's Go Fly A Kite, A Spoonful of Sugar and Stay Awake make way for Nowhere To Go But Up, Can You Imagine That? and The Place Where Lost Things Go.
With its mix of animation and live actors, The Royal Doulton Music Hall is reminiscent of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Trip a Little Light Fantastic is a homage to the Oscar-winning number Chim Chim Cher-ee but with a modern twist thanks to a mini-rap by Miranda, who puts on a decent Cockney accent.
Instead of laughter that makes people float to the ceiling, there's Mary's cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep) and her upside-down workshop.
Today's filmmaking technologies allow for some nice flourishes, like the underwater sequences in Can You Imagine That? but director Rob Marshall is smart to carry on with the look and feel of the practical effects and two-dimensional animation from the original film, penguins and all.
Mary Poppins Returns opens in cinemas on January 1.
Mary Poppins Returns
Stars: Emily Blunt, Ben Whishaw, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep.
Director: Rob Marsall
Verdict: 4 stars