Movie Review: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davis, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke
Plot: Michael Banks, having experienced the magic of Mary Poppins as a child, is now a widowed father of three struggling to hold on to their house during the Great Depression. When he’s on verge of despair Mary Poppins returns to put things right.
Review: I can’t imagine the level of incredulous that met the pitch for this sequel to 50+ year old Disney Classic. A remake of one of Disney’s most famous and beloved films, very closely tied to its cast of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Recast the iconic role and make a direct sequel dealing with a pretty bleak set up…what can go wrong?
Well, Disney at least recognised that this should not be half-assed. And it’s fine. It’s…good enough.
The original children from the original film have grown up, but things are not as magical as they once were. Michael (Whishaw) is a widowed father of three young children, trying to hold down a job as a bank teller during the Great Depression and is at risk of losing his childhood home. His sister, Jane (Mortimer), is being highly supportive (whilst also fighting for worker’s rights) and their housekeeper Ellen (Walters) is not as capable as she once was. As Michael’s despair at his situation worsens magical nanny Mary Poppins (Blunt) arrives on a kite to look after them.
Strangely she doesn’t spend much time working with Michael directly, instead focusing on his children (Davies, Saleh, Dawson – all excellent). This doesn’t really click, as they’re more capable than their father under pressure. Perhaps it’s all about recapturing their lost childhood and that is somehow contagious. Mary Poppins immediately connects with a Bert-stand-in named Jack, who works as a lamplighter. He’s played by the immensely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, so he lifts the quality of the song and dance numbers substantially.
The big, show-stopping numbers really act as a clear example of what the key problem with Mary Poppins Returns is. They’re not even close to being as memorable as the original’s soundtrack. There’s not one I would consider an earworm on the level of ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’, ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ or ‘Supercalifragilistcexpialidocious’. To be fair, I did appreciate that they didn’t do a knock-off gibberish hook like those songs were famous for. There’s some creative work in the dance routines, there’s rarely a dull moment while these are playing out. There’s good use of the bicycles and ladders during Jack’s big number, although the fact they’re clearly trying to mask stunt BMX’s with some shadowing is unintentionally funny.
There’s a lot we like about the movie. Emily Blunt is the perfect person to bring the iconic character back to our screens. We liked that Michael, as the male lead, was given a strong emotional arc, and they were willing to show him expresses an intense emotional response to his situation. Men are supposed to get angry and tough, not cry! The animation is as good as you’d expect from Disney, with flawless integration into the live action. The porcelain bowl world is a stand out with some wonderful classic animation work and amazing sound design.
There’s a lot of individual parts that are strong, but they didn’t come together as a whole. There’s the nagging feeling that they’re trying to play it safe rather than going all out.
Like we said – it’s nice enough.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN