“Mary Poppins Returns” Movie Review


     The thought of doing a sequel to the beloved 1964 Disney musical, “Mary Poppins”, is daunting when you think about everything that would need to go right, along with everything that will likely go wrong.  In today’s toxic and incendiary social media frenzy within the world of filmdom, it isn’t possible to please everyone. But director Rob Marshall’s “Mary Poppins Returns” certainly tries to be practically perfect in every way, clearly making the effort to pay homage to the original, rather than breaking the kind of new ground likely to cause a fuss amongst the masses.  The filmmakers here played it safe in other words.  A decision whose dividends may not be known until many years down the road.

     In order to flourish beyond their theatrical windows and remain relevant for decades to come, it is crucial for a musical to have a catchy hit or two that thrives within other mediums such as radio and streaming.  Bottom line is people need to be listening to the songs outside of watching the film.  2016’s “La La Land” had the Oscar nominated “Audition” and the Oscar winning “City of Stars”.  2017’s “The Greatest Showman” had the ultra popular “This Is Me”, plus an entire soundtrack that has since been re-released with covers by notable artists such as Pink and Kesha.  Now think back to “Mary Poppins” and I’ll bet at least a half dozen songs immediately come to mind with hits like “A Spoon Full Of Sugar”, “Jolly Holiday”, “Feed The Birds”, “Lets Go Fly A Kite”, as well as that catchy tune about a certain really long word, are practically rolling off your tongue as if you just saw the film yesterday.  So my question remains:  Will we be singing and thinking about “The Place Where Lost Things Go” and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” at this time next year?  We will see.

     Marshall and his collaborators seem intent on keeping both the look and feel of the original film intact and have gone to painstaking lengths to ensure 1930s London nearly replicates everything we remember about the sets and locations from the first film.  And this is a good thing.  The last thing we would have wanted is a re-imagining that didn’t feel like a “Mary Poppins” film, where the production design wallows into an unintentional modern vibe.  What you want here is the following of J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” blueprint in which from the opening frame, we know we are in the right world.  

     And so it begins with a musical number where we meet Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a lamp lighter who as a young boy worked as a chimney sweep and now bicycles from street to street ensuring the dark cobblestoned walkways are properly lit.  On one of those streets is the familiar Banks home, which now two decades after the first film is suffering through a series of awful family tragedies.  The now grown Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) recently lost his wife and the mother of their three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson).  Michael and the kids receive constant support from his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), but after a year of grieving, their financial situation is about to take a turn for the worse.  In order to stay afloat for the past year, Michael had to borrow against his home and after missing several payments is now being told by the bank the family home will be repossessed.

     It’s in these difficult times the family needs someone to help keep them together and moving in the right direction.  And this is again when Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) appears and with her comes the familiar framework of the original film, along with a slew of musical numbers, some of which are effective, and others that could have been shortened or cut altogether.  Nonetheless, the story proceeds as Mary begins by getting the three children to shape up and learn from her time tested wisdom.  As Mary takes the children through a whimsical array of animated worlds and choreographed dance numbers, Michael continues in his attempts to save the family’s home by imploring the bank manager, Wilkins (Colin Firth), to give them more time.  But of course, there are ill intentioned motivations behind the bank’s business dealings unbeknownst to the Banks family.

     Marshall manages to work in cameos and musical numbers that include both Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury who starred in the original, as well as an unneeded detour involving Mary’s cousin Topsy, played by Meryl Streep.  The script, written by David Magee, seeks to inject a number of life lessons, courtesy of Mary, as the stress of losing their home so soon after the loss of their wife and mother begins to take a toll.  And those lessons revolve directly around Mary preaching you must never forget how to be a child.  What she means is holding on to the ability to be happy and thankful for what you have, knowing the rest will eventually work itself out.  Loss is something nearly impossible to deal with and the themes explored in “Mary Poppins Returns” are definitely well beyond the younger crowd parents may believe the film is intended for.

     After her tour de force performance in “A Quiet Place” earlier this year, Emily Blunt ably steps into the shoes of the character made famous by Julie Andrews.  And she does so, not necessarily by making the character her own, but rather continuing on with the performance as if Andrews had never left.  She absolutely nails it, from the mannerisms to the look.  With so much to measure up to and expectations through the roof, the entire cast is certainly up to the task, providing a film that is sure to lift your family’s spirit and perhaps even help you realize things are not all that bad after all.  No one said “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was better than “Star Wars: A New Hope”, but that doesn’t mean the modern filmmakers here haven’t created something equally as special.  The original is always the benchmark, especially if you grew up with it.  “Mary Poppins Returns” is a sequel that doesn’t seek to necessarily surpass it’s predecessor, but instead looks to remind all of us what makes this character one of the most iconic in all of Disney lore. GRADE: B+