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Happy birthday Julie Andrews! Here's why we're excited about Mary Poppins Returns

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It's a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious day, as we're celebrating the 83rd birthday of the one and only Julie Andrews.

The iconic musical star's legacy is back in the spotlight this year, as Mary Poppins Returns flies on to Cineworld screens in time for Christmas. It's the long-awaited sequel to Andrews' much-cherished Disney classic, in which she plays the magical flying nanny who swoops in to save the melancholy Banks family with little more than a spoonful of sugar (and a special umbrella). The movie went on to win five Oscars, including one for Andrews herself, upon its original release back in 1964.

The sequel reunites us with Mary, who this time is played by Into the Woods performer Emily Blunt. Here are five reasons why we cannot wait for Mary's return...


1. It continues the Mary Poppins mythology

Originated by author E.L. Travers in her popular family novels, which were then adapted by Disney to sugar-coated effect (much to Travers' dismay), Mary Poppins has emerged as one of the most unlikely, yet endearing, of all big-screen saviours.

In the first movie, she initiated a change in the Banks family, as young children Michael and Jane found themselves estranged from their workaholic father, who subsequently experienced a change of heart.

Mary Poppins Returns picks up 25 years later, as we find the older Michael (Paddington's Ben Whishaw), now a widow, with children of his own. With the bank threatening to seize his beloved family home, Michael is at risk of turning into the dispirited man his father once was, even as his sister Jane (Hugo's Emily Mortimer) urges him to tap into that sense of childhood innocence.

Enter Mary, whose expertise and magical ways are needed more than ever. With its continuation of the original movie's enchanting themes (nostalgia versus cynicism, magic and wonder versus cold, hard reality), plus its intriguing development of two of the original's key characters, this is bound to strike a chord with new and old viewers alike. After all, many of us have waited five decades for this...


2. It's directed by a musical master

You can't have a Mary Poppins movie without dazzling musical set-pieces, and, fortunately, the sequel is in very good hands. It's helmed by director Rob Marshall, a veteran of screen musicals from the multi-Oscar-winning Chicago to Daniel Day-Lewis extravaganza Nine and Disney fairy tale Into the Woods.

The latter is perhaps most pertinent when referring to Mary Poppins Returns, an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's stage smash that mixes up all manner of magic and mayhem with an all-star cast, including, appropriately enough, Emily Blunt herself. Marshall knows his way around an arresting musical sequence, from the foot-stomping glee of Renee Zellweger in Chicago to Meryl Streep's Into the Woods grand-standing, so we have high hopes that he can honour the tone of the original Mary Poppins, while bringing his own unique touch to the new songs in the follow-up.

The original had 'Let's Go Fly a Kite', 'Feed the Birds' and any number of everlasting classics, ranging from the exhilarating to the bittersweet. We don't yet know what will feature in the sequel, although we get a brief taster of Blunt's lovely voice in the trailer. 


3. Emily Blunt is inspired casting

From the full-throttle action of Edge of Tomorrow to the creepy chills of this year's A Quiet Place, Blunt is one of the most versatile actors working in films today. But of course, it's the sweet and tuneful side of her big-screen personality that's needed for Mary Poppins Returns, and she's proved on more than one occasion that she can convey an endearing sense of charm.

She played the Baker's wife in Into the Woods, nailing both the elaborate musical performances and light physical comedy, which stands her in good stead for the role of Mary Poppins, one that requires a specific kind of body language and delivery. (The fact she's reuniting with director Rob Marshall also stands us in good stead – they clearly have the sort of actor-director shorthand needed to elicit a sense of magic.)

Blunt's scene-stealing characteristics were also on display to Golden Globe-winning effect in The Devil Wears Prada, her breakout performance in which she played catty PR assistant Emily. She's also tickled our funny bones and won our hearts in rom-coms Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Five-Year Engagement, so she more than has the chops to do justice to Mary's magic.


4. It honours the spirit of the original

We've already mentioned how the film reunites us with the older Banks children – this ensures a vital link to the past while also moving their story forward in fresh new directions. It's bound to be an emotional experience, full of joy at their big-screen return, and also melancholy in the story's acknowledgement of their advancing years. Watching these older characters tap into their sense of childhood whimsy, with a little help from Mary, is also guaranteed to be a magical experience.

And it's not just the characters and themes to which the film remains loyal. From what we've seen in the trailer, Marshall has honed the vibrant Technicolour imagery of the first film and has honoured the look of the original Banks house, ensuring this film is part of a vibrant family legacy.

Plus, the animated chalk penguins are back – well, it wouldn't be Mary Poppins without them.


5. There's an all-star supporting cast

Excitingly, Mary Poppins Returns acts as the first substantial screen role for Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of smash-hit musical Hamilton. He's a member of the honorary EGOT community (defined as the small number of people who've won an Emmy award, Golden Globe, Oscar and Tony award), and is one of the biggest musical stars in the world at the moment. The fact he's playing the apprentice of the original film's lamplighter Burt (Dick Van Dyke) only makes us more excited.

Van Dyke himself appears in the sequel, alongside a formidable ensemble including the Mamma Mia! triumvirate of Colin Firth, Meryl Streep and Julie Walters. Don't expect Mary to go busting out ABBA though...

Are you excited about Mary Poppins Returns? The movie is released in Cineworld on 21st December, so join us in celebrating Julie Andrews' birthday @Cineworld.