Friday Film Review - "Mary Poppins Returns"
The new film “Mary Poppins Returns” is a sequel in need of its own identity—or at least, a spoonful of sugar.
One of my fondest childhood memories is, as an eight-year-old, going to the movies with my father to see the original “Mary Poppins”. The music, dancing and historic first-time combination of live action and animation were utterly captivating. All these years later, I have to admit my inner child was thrilled to see that Disney Studios and director Rob Marshall were bringing back a new installment, “Mary Poppins Returns”
In the original film, Mary Poppins arrived out of the blue to be nanny to Michael and Jane Banks whose father didn’t have time for them, as he was all too consumed by his work. Mary Poppins helped Michael and Jane develop a relationship with their father and then left as suddenly as she had arrived. Now, Michael and Jane are grown. Jane has become an activist and Michael, who lives in his childhood home, is a recently widowed father of three. He is an artist whose wife took care of the finances and now, Michael is discovering he has let things slide since his wife’s death and is on the brink of losing everything. Being the magical nanny that she is, Mary Poppins, who hasn’t aged a bit, again, arrives on the wind one day to help rescue the family.
Helping to bring Marry Poppins alive for 21st century audiences are Emily Blunt, as Mary, Lin Manuel-Miranda as Jack, Ben Whishaw as Michael, and Emily Mortimer as Jane. Emily Blunt is a spit spot Mary, who is perfect in every way except for possibly being too perfect. There are the occasional loving smiles for the children, but always when they are not looking. Blunt seems to be just a bit stiffer and more aloof in her version of the character, which made her a bit off putting. Lin Manuel-Miranda, as Jack, is a happy and lighthearted lamp lighter making him a good equivalent of the chimney sweep, Bert, from the original film. Both Whishaw and Mortimer do a fine job of bringing the children to adulthood. Be sure to keep your eyes open, as there are several people who make surprise as well as surprising appearances.
As with the original film, the music is engaging and adds depth to the scenes. The only drawback, although perhaps not for parents, is that the music is not quite as catching as the original score, and there is no stand out song. Not a soul was heard humming on the way out of the theater.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is supposed to be its own story and not a remake of the 1964 film, but greatly blurs the line between remake and sequel. In a sequel, one would expect an overlap with characters, but there are so many scenes which can be directly linked to the original that it feels as though the writers merely took the original as their template and just changed names, occupations and in some cases the order of the scenes. Various bits, such as the Admiral, Mary’s reflection in the mirror and the lamplighter’s dance, to name a few, are examples of this. The most telling is a chase scene, which blends animation with live action. This was film feat first accomplished in the 1964 “Mary Poppins”. Unfortunately, none of the scenes from “Mary Poppins Returns” are as brilliant as those in the first film.
All in all, “Mary Poppins Returns” has all of the right elements to be a wonderful movie; good music, good acting, lovely cinematography, but something is lacking, and the elements aren’t brought together in a way that makes this film as engaging or energizing as it should be. Instead, the film just falls flat. Perhaps, it is the lack of a special magical word to take with us back into the real world. It might be that “Mary Poppins Returns” would be better appreciated by those totally unfamiliar with the first film.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is a rather long and disappointing two hours and 10 minutes in length and is rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief action.
The Friday Film Review is sponsored by Park City Film.