Mary Poppins Returns review
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Almost everyone knows this comes from the Disney classic, Mary Poppins. Most people, including myself, would agree that Mary Poppins is one of the greatest family movies of all time. Whether is the performances by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, the songs which are still incredibly catchy, or the story of a father appreciating the things he has in life. It's one of the few films that if it's playing on TV, I simply have to watch it and encourage others to give it a chance if they dismiss it as "kids stuff".
What makes it fascinating that despite it's critical phrase, five Oscar wins and timeless fandom, the author of the books, P.L. Travers never cared for the movie and denounced it. The movie Saving Mr. Banksgoes into better detail, but it's because of her temperament and distaste for the movie that has prevented the other Mary Poppins books from being made. Though I haven't read the books, I could imagine that they must have a lot of material to tell more stories of the magical nanny and the Banks family. After nearly fifty years, we've finally been given a Christmas treat of a sequel in Mary Poppins Returns.
Now set in the 1930's, adult Michael (played by Ben Whishaw) is widowed with his three children Annabel, John, and George, and living with his sister Jane (Played by Emily Mortimer) in the family home from the first movie. Michael is facing financial problems as isn't able to repay a loan a got from the bank. They figure they could use their father's bank shares to pay them off, but seem to have trouble finding them. On top of that, Michael's children are misbehaved and chase away another nanny. As luck would have it on a windy day, a kite catches a flying nanny.
Mary Poppins (played by Emily Blunt) arrives at the Banks residence to say she's here for children (and Michael's kids as well). In order to teach the little ones about life, she does a variety of things including taking them into an underwater fantasy, a china bowl world (done in beautiful hand drawn animation) and even meeting with Mary's eccentric cousin Topsy (played by Meryl Streep). Also along with Mary and the kids is local lamplighter Jack (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda). As everyone is learning their lesson, they also have to see if they can wither find the shares or money that can save the house from the corrupt bank president William (played by Colin Firth).
You can tell the director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods) really wanted to recapture the spirit of the original. In essence, he may have done his job too well for Mary Poppins Returns. Not only does it hit a lot of beats of Mary Poppins, but it almost does the same thing that the first movie did, without offering much new. I can't flag the moments too much, as the dancing is still good, the design is still good, and even the songs are catchy. I just think more could be done with Mary Poppins and the Banks children.
I'll say upfront the cast is spot on. Emily Blunt is perfect for Mary Poppins as she captures the difficult duality of Julie Andrews sweetness and stern personality. Both Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer do well in portraying adult versions of the kids and do feel evolved from the first movie. A lot of the side characters are fine (especially a cameo from Dick Van Dyke who does an impressive dance sequence. The only one who didn't do as well were the actors playing Michael's kids. I don't blame them for that, but the writing doesn't make them that memorable.
If the cast is all set, then why couldn't the script have taken more risks? I don't know if Mary Poppins Returns is close to the book sequels, but I'd hope that the books show how versatile these characters are. It doesn't help that while the original Mary Poppins felt like a magical slice of life, this tries to raise the stakes by having a villain and a chase scene. If your going to do that, then make sure it fits the spirit of the story. I can't give away why it doesn't work, but it does make me ask, "Why doesn't Mary Poppins just fly over to the bank to help the family?"
I'll give the three spoonful's of sugar out of five. I can't go as far to say that this is a bad movie, but it's certainly not practically perfect. It's a movie that feels more like a remake then a sequel. If your looking for a movie like this that is just hitting the beats of the original with some good songs, you'll probably like this. My expectations for Mary Poppins is high because the original movie took itself more seriously then people remember. It's a mixed bag of sugar that goes down, but only in small doses.