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Emily Blunt

Lin-Manuel Miranda, center, takes on his first major film role in ‘Mary Poppins Returns.’ Photo by Jay Maidment/Disney

By Heidi Sutton

Fifty-four years after Disney’s beloved “Mary Poppins” magically dropped out of the sky and into our lives, its long-awaited sequel arrived at local theaters for the holidays.

Titled “Mary Poppins Returns,” the movie is based on the second book in the Mary Poppins series by author P. L. Travers — “Mary Poppins Comes Back.” Co-starring Emily Blunt (“Girl on the Train,” “A Quiet Place”) as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) as Jack the lamplighter, it picks up the story 25 years later in 1935.

Recently widowed, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) still lives in London at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) and longtime housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) while Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) lives in a flat across town. Set during the Great Slump, the family home is in danger of being repossessed unless a loan can be paid back in five days.

While Jane and Michael search frantically for their father’s bank shares, the children spend the day in the park and come home with — who else — Mary Poppins! “I was flying a kite and it got caught on a nanny!” exclaims Georgie. 

“I’ve come to look after the Banks children” says Mary. However, while Michael’s children go on all kinds of magical adventures, it is Michael and Jane who are ultimately watched over by their old friend.

Directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Into the Woods”), with screenplay by David Magee (“Finding Neverland,” “Life of Pi”), the film features a fresh score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and new dance numbers, animation scenes and cameo appearances by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Karen Dotrice (the original Jane), Colin Firth and, at 91 years old, a tap-dancing Dick Van Dyke.

In the title role Blunt is practically perfect in the way she captures Mary Poppins’ mannerisms, and Lin-Manuel Miranda steals every scene in his first major film role. However, it is the many songs (over 25 in all), from the undersea adventure “Can You Imagine That?,” the emotional lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the big dance number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” (a companion piece to “Step in Time”), Miranda’s Hamilton-esque rap in “A Cover Is Not the Book” and the finale, “Nowhere to Go But Up” that are the heart of the film.

There are many wonderful aspects to this film — all of the actors are terrific; the singing, dancing and choreography are amazing; and the sets are impressive. That being said, I found it hard to fall in love with this film. Maybe because I kept comparing it to the original, but I found the plot to be thin and rushed somehow — as if it had run over the allotted time and then was edited too much. For a Disney film, it didn’t feel magical enough and failed to capture the charm of its predecessor.

Rated PG, “Mary Poppins Returns” is now playing in local theaters. Running time is 2 hours 10 minutes.

Sherlock Gnomes saves the day in the sequel to ‘Gnomeo & Juliet.' Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

It’s been seven years since moviegoers were invited into the magical world of garden gnomes with Touchstone Pictures’ “Gnomeo & Juliet,” the charming animated film loosely based on William Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy while celebrating the music of Sir Elton John. 

Juliet and Gnomeo are back for a new adventure.

Set in the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the story, which features a star-studded cast, takes place in the backyard gardens of two feuding elderly neighbors — Mr. Montague and Miss Capulet. Their garden gnomes, which are blue and red, respectively, are also strict enemies until Gnomeo (blue) and Juliet (red) secretly fall in love and manage to unite the two gnome clans.

I remember taking my daughter and her friends to see this movie and being so enamored by it that I went to a bunch of garden centers the following day and snatched up all the red and blue garden gnomes I could find to put in my rock garden. 

Now Paramount Pictures and MGM Studios bring audiences a sequel to the adorable fairy tale, “Sherlock Gnomes,” with all of the original characters you love including Gnomeo (James McAvoy), Juliet (Emily Blunt), Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine), Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith), Nanette the Frog (Ashley Jensen), Benny (Matt Lucas), Mankini (Julio Bonet) and Fawn (Ozzy Osbourne) in a brand new mystery adventure directed by John Stevenson.

The Montagues and Capulets have married and moved to London. Their collection of garden gnomes have also made the trip, albeit to a much smaller garden that needs a lot of work, “a fixer upper” of sorts. Gnomeo decides that the garden needs a centerpiece, Juliet’s favorite flower — a Cupid’s Arrow Orchid — and ventures out into the city to find one. When Juliet discovers Gnomeo’s plan, she follows him and ends up rescuing him when he becomes trapped in a florist shop.

Sherlock Gnomes and Watson are on the case of the missing garden gnomes.

When the couple returns home, they find that all of their friends as well as gnomes in seven other gardens have been kidnapped, “an ornamental crime on a scale never seen before.” They must be rescued within 24 hours or they’ll be smashed to smithereens. The police are too busy to help, so Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp), sworn protector of garden gnomes, and his trusty sidekick Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) take the case. Sherlock is convinced this is the work of his arch nemesis Moriarity (Jamie Demetriou) and, along with Watson, Gnomeo and Juliet, follows a trail of clues to find the gnomes, with lots of plot twists and turns along the way. Will the case be solved in time?

A nice touch is the many places in London that the detective team visit to find clues including the Royal Green Park, the Natural History Museum, Chinatown and Tower Bridge. While Elton John recently announced he is retiring from touring, his music will live on in this film with catchy songs like “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “I’m Still Standing” peppered throughout.  

Although this sequel is not as good as the original, as sequels rarely are, “Sherlock Gnomes” is still worth a trip to the theater for its visually stunning and lifelike animation, wonderful music and positive message to not take your friends for granted. By the same token, it is highly recommended that “Gnomeo & Juliet” be seen first as it will help in relating to the humor and connecting to the characters better. And I’ll be visiting the garden center to stock up on green garden gnomes. Running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes. 

Rated PG for rude and suggestive humor, “Sherlock Gnomes” in now playing in local theaters.

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