SPIT SPOT! BLUNT’S A PRAC­TI­CALLY PER­FECT POP­PINS

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In the half-cen­tury since the orig­i­nal “Mary Pop­pins” de­buted, we’ve learned a lot about re­fined su­gar, frankly none of it good. Doc­tors tell us it can lead to obe­sity, heart dis­ease and all sorts of other detri­ments to our health.

But let’s face it, there are times when a lit­tle su­gar — oh what the heck, let’s say a spoon­ful — is just what we need, if not for health then for hap­pi­ness. So it’s sweet news in­deed that “Mary Pop­pins Re­turns,” a se­quel 54 years in com­ing, pro­vides just that spoon­ful of hap­pi­ness in the form of Emily Blunt, prac­ti­cally per­fect in ev­ery way as the heir to Julie An­drews.

“Spit spot!”“Pish Posh!”“Jigetty Jog!” (Did we spell that right?) These Pop­pins-isms slip ef­fort­lessly off Blunt’s tongue. It’s also no sim­ple feat to gaze at one’s re­flec­tion and say “prac­ti­cally per­fect in ev­ery way” and not seem ego­tis­ti­cal, but Blunt’s easy warmth and charm shine through.

Of course she can also sing, and dance, with part­ners both live and an­i­mated. And she’s funny — wit­ness her price­less in­dig­na­tion when a child asks how much she weighs. But

then she can spin on a dime and con­vey that steely Pop­pins nerve, that sense that in a cri­sis, she knows ex­actly what must be done, and ev­ery­body else had bet­ter stand aside.

There’s fur­ther happy news here: It’s not just Blunt that’s at the top of her game in this thor­oughly de­light­ful en­ter­prise by di­rec­tor Rob Mar­shall and a crack team of artists de­voted to both hon­or­ing a time-worn clas­sic and find­ing some­thing new to say.

The vi­su­als are lovely, from the oil paint­ings in the open­ing cred­its to the bal­loon-filled spring fair at the end. And Sandy Pow­ell’s cos­tumes are fab­u­lous, es­pe­cially the reds and blues and stripes and polka dots that adorn Mary, from her straw-hat­ted head to her turned-out feet (What we wouldn’t give for one of those slen­der­waisted, caped over­coats, or polka-dot bow ties). And those candy-hued clothes that Mary, Jack and the Banks kids wear in the cen­ter­piece scene mix­ing live ac­tion and an­i­ma­tion? They’re lit­er­ally hand-painted, to de­lec­ta­ble ef­fect.

Blunt’s star power is com­ple­mented here by ap­peal­ing turns from Lin-Manuel Mi­randa as the afore-men­tioned Jack, a kind-hearted lamp­lighter who once worked for Bert the chim­ney sweep (aka Dick Van Dyke); Ben Whisham and Emily Mor­timer as the el­der Banks chil­dren, a slimy Colin Firth as the bank chief, and, for ic­ing on the cake, a flame-haired Meryl Streep as Mary’s vaguely East­ern Eu­ro­pean cousin Topsy (“Vat do you VANT?”).

Then there’s the ic­ing on the ic­ing: a cameo by Van Dyke him­self, still spry at 92, that is hands­down the emo­tional peak of the film — even be­fore he starts to twin­kle those toes.

The set­ting is De­pres­sion-era Lon­don, where wid­owed Michael lives with his three young chil­dren at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, strug­gling to stay afloat. Sis­ter Jane, a la­bor or­ga­nizer, lives in a flat across town.

As we be­gin, Michael learns he’s be­hind on loan pay­ments, and the bank wants to take his house. He’s given five days to find proof that his fa­ther owned shares there, which could save the home. Search­ing des­per­ately, he comes across an old kite but tosses it in the trash.

Luck­ily it’s a windy day, and who flies in with that kite? Yep, Mary, emerg­ing from the sky with her bot­tom­less bag and um­brella (If you’re cry­ing al­ready here, and you might be, you’re in trou­ble). “It’s won­der­ful to see you,” ex­claim a shocked Michael and Jane. “Yes it is, isn’t it,” Mary replies.

Just like that, Mary’s slid­ing up the ban­is­ter again. First or­der of busi­ness: the chil­dren’s bath, which turns into a wild ad­ven­ture down the drain and into the color­ful sea, fly­ing dol­phins and all.

“Can You Imag­ine That?” Mary sings, one of the catchy orig­i­nal songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. There’s also the mourn­ful “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” about loss, and Streep’s tour de force, “Turn­ing Tur­tle,” and the brassy per­for­mance num­ber “A Cover is Not the Book.” Each song has its spir­i­tual an­tecedent in the orig­i­nal film, in­clud­ing the lamp­lighters’ dance num­ber “Trip a Lit­tle Light Fan­tas­tic,” a nod to “Step in Time.”

As for Mi­randa, though the role he’s given could have used more of a back­story, his pres­ence in­jects a warm and sunny vibe into

gray De­pres­sion-era Lon­don, and it’s to­tally in­fec­tious. His Cock­ney ac­cent is bet­ter than his pre­de­ces­sor’s, too, and it’s nice that he gets to rap a bit in the an­i­mated fan­tasy se­quence, as did Van Dyke( sort of) in the orig­i­nal. Mor­timer and es­pe­cially Whisham are both touch­ing in roles that could have felt per­func­tory.

Per­haps no more ex­pla­na­tion is nec­es­sary — af­ter all, as Jack says, “Mary Pop­pins never ex­plains any­thing.”Will we meet­ing her yet again? Who knows. But it was won­der­ful to see her, es­pe­cially in Blunt’s lov­ing hands.

“Yes it was, wasn’t it,” she’d surely re­ply.

“Mary Pop­pins Re­turns,” a Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios re­lease, is rated PG by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica “for some mild the­matic el­e­ments and brief ac­tion.” Run­ning time: 130 min­utes. Three and a half stars out of four.

MPAA def­i­ni­tion of PG: Parental guid­ance sug­gested.

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