If you never watched the original Mary Poppins, based on P.L. Travers’ book, when you were a child, I feel sorry for you. It became such a lovable classic that anybody should appreciate, and not trust those who don’t care about it. In the longest gap between a sequel ever, it may seem like Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns will be another delightful film for 2018 to bring back some magic.
What’s the Story: 25 years after the original set during the “Great Slump”, a grown-up Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) are living a stressful life after the death of Michael’s wife a year ago and his house is about to be foreclosed. All of a sudden, the always charming nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) re-enters to comes in and help out the Banks and Michael’s three children.
Admittedly, I was very looking forward to seeing a sequel, unlike some people. I was, however, trepidatious with director Rob Marshall (Into the Woods, Chicago) attached to the project. Probably the closest we had to come back to the titular character was either the Broadway show or the underrated Saving Mr. Banks where it was about Walt Disney trying to get the property on the big screen. The hype was getting real when it was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the best films of the year and earning four Golden Globe nominations. While Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t hit all the right notes, it’s still able to bring on the fun that we all would expect.
Blunt was the perfect choice to perform as the titular character. I was a bit confusing since the character is a different actress and doesn’t seem to be in any relation to Julie Andrews, the role the made her famous and earned her an Oscar. But it’s Emily Blunt; I’m not gonna question anything. She was able to capture the same characteristics from Andrews’ portrayal 54 years ago without making it impossible. The best part was that she made this character her own to the point where I didn’t think about Andrews at any given moment throughout this. With this and A Quiet Place getting her a ton of buzz this year, I’m very happy for her, especially after the two misfires she had a couple years ago.
We also have the very talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, in his first major film role, as Jack, the neighborhood lamplighter, and he was great in every scene he’s in. The Hamilton alum really showcased that he’s a real actor on the big screen. He’s basically the new Burt, but he still brings the energy to the story. And granted, his Cockney accent was at least better than Dick Van Dyke’s. The chemistry between Blunt and him was excellent and was capable of singing the songs to perfection.
The rest of the performances aren’t that bad. Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson as Michael’s children, Annabel, John, and Georgie did a solid job. Then you also got Julie Walters as housemaid and Colin Firth as the evil banker.
On a technical achievement, there’s much a to love. The visual effects are spectacular and its use of animation during one sequence was truly amazing. Props to the animators for making 2D animation great again. And it’s another one of those times where I paid attention to the beautiful costume design by Sandy Powell and John Myhre’s production design.
Now, are the songs, written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, in Mary Poppins Returns better than the first movie? It hinders on mixed results. Which is a bit disappointing because that was the aspect of the movie that I was really looking forward to. The songs in the original really stand out and people can easily identify where it’s from. Here though, not to say the music is terrible, but there’s probably at least two or three songs that are probably gonna be remembered. There wasn’t any song that tops something like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or “Step in Time” or “A Spoonful of Sugar”. But the musical numbers themselves are well crafted.
People have complained about certain movies being similar to their successors, and I can kind of see in here. The story, written by David Magee (Life of Pi), does feel a tad bit just like the first movies with the same beats. Does it automatically make it terrible? No, but I would’ve love to see some new elements to make this sequel brighter. But most won’t like how it leans more on nostalgia sake with certain Easter eggs that some might spot. So what? I also feel like Meryl Streep’s character Topsy, Mary’s cousin, was unnecessary and her musical number was the weakest out of the bunch.
My biggest takeaway from both films is that it provides a meaningful message to kids and adults about not losing your inner child when things are down. Life can get hard for everybody, especially for Michael when it feels like his life going the way it should be when providing for his family. Seems like this is one of those movies where we need to look on the bright side and lean in on the good things to make us feel happy.
In the end, Mary Poppins Returns is perfectly enjoyable for fans of the original Disney classic. It does have some flaws, and it’s maybe because I was too tired, but I would like to seek it out again, later on, to appreciate it more. I would love to see Blunt finally get an Oscar nomination for her performance, along with a few nominations. Of course, this doesn’t hold a candle like before, but I had fun.
Mary Poppins Returns might not have the most memorable songs and the story may feel too familiar, but the long-awaited sequel still brings a delightful and whimsical adventure for all ages with a perfect performance from Emily Blunt.