“I thought we’d never see you again.”
Mary Poppins Returns claims to be a sequel, and it technically is one since it picks up where things once started, starring the Banks children from the 1964 film who’ve grown into adults of their own. Sequels are meant to push stories forward though, to enrich and build upon what came before, and by those simple standards Mary Poppins Returns is a rollicking, irrefutable rehash of everything we saw decades ago from Disney’s original musical fantasy. This familiar magic act of a film attempts the same theatrics with more flair and creativity, except this time we know it’s one simple trick dressed to the nines in excessive sleight of hand.
17 Cherry Tree Lane retains that winsome, familiar sense of charm we first encountered decades back, at least with the fanciful window dressings. Next door neighbor Admiral Boom (David Warner) still marks the time by firing off canons and Ellen (Julie Walters) is the newest in a long line of housekeepers for the residence. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) raises his three kids – Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) – in the childhood home where he imagined and played. Having been newly widowed for a year and forfeiting his artistic pursuits to take a teller position at the bank where his late father was once a partner, Michael’s ambition and imagination both suffer from the common afflictions associated with growing up, leading Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt, truly brilliant here in a toughh role few actresses could ever nail) to gracefully float back down for a surprise visit.
The first half of Mary Poppins Returns gracefully dips its simple-minded and vanilla story into a sweet chocolate shell of pure nostalgia, reaffirming the many great qualities of Robert Stevenson’s original by mostly, if not entirely, reenacting them. There are minor departures, though. The Banks’ home is about to be repossessed by the bank, Michael’s sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) helps him root around for important paperwork, meanwhile the kids embark on stunning adventures with the eponymous nanny and her lamplighter friend Jack (Lin-Manunel Miranda). But by introducing a nefarious and unmotivated villain in the bank manager Wilkins (Colin Firth), Mary Poppins Returns becomes less about championing boundless joy – which the 1964 film does so wonderfully – and more concerned with defeating cynicism at all costs, most of which lead to frustratingly preposterous scenes, and that’s coming from a story about a beguiling magical nanny.
Deep down I know that Mary Poppins Returns would have left a greater impression on me had I not seen the original for the first time a few hours prior. Even though it’s overlong and drags during the musical numbers, Mary Poppins knew how to separate itself from the rest of the crowd. And with his latest musical production, director Rob Marshall merely seems to be playing the old hits with a little bit of modernity for good measure. The songs are forgettable, the choreography lackluster, and the whole movie lives in the shadow of the behemoth that came before. Mary Poppins Returns might be fun and decent and light-hearted (as well as a strange mix of energy and lethargy), but it’s also the furthest thing from original and proof that, despite deploying an umbrella in a storm of sentiment, lightning rarely strikes the same territory twice.
“I’m looking for the way things were.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5