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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "Mary Poppins Returns" a fine film, though not on par with the classic original

Dec 14, 2018 12:05PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns - © 2018 Disney.

Mary Poppins Returns (Disney)

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action.

Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Jeremy Swift, Tarik Frimpong, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Edward Hibbert (voice).

Written by David Magee, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca, based on "Mary Poppins" by P. L. Travers.

Directed by Rob Marshall.



Never content to live off their classics and continually averse to innovate new content, Disney Studios is compelled to recycle – ALWAYS. That’s why we’re getting live-action remakes of all Disney classic animated features, and why there are more sequels on the way. Disney’s influence has even been felt in the Pixar films they release, with a fourth Toy Story film on the way and this year’s arrival of Incredibles 2 and Disney’s own (Wreck-It) Ralph Breaks the Internet. You’d think some of Disney’s classics might be sacrosanct, but this weekend’s release of Mary Poppins Returns suggests otherwise. It’s a sequel with a gap of 54 years after the original 1964 version hit screens, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (based on P.L. Travers’ children’s books).

The story picks up several years following Mary Poppins’ ascension to the sky after rescuing the Banks family from their obsession with worldly matters. The original Banks children are now adults with Michael (Ben Whishaw) making ends meet as a failed artist by working as a cashier at the same bank where his father nearly lost his job during the first film. Michael is a recent widower and father of three adorable children: Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathaniel Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson). The family lives in the Banks’ old home on Cherry Tree Lane and are often visited by Michael’s sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), an activist working to increase worker wages during the Great Depression. When payment for a second mortgage on the Banks home comes due, the family begins a search for an old document that verifies ownership of shares in the bank, representing a small fortune. Michael begins to despair and lashes out at the kids, which prompts the mystical return of his former nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt). Through a series of magical adventures, Poppins takes Michael’s kids to a world of animated possibilities. She also connects with Jack (Lin Manuel Miranda) a lamplighter and former chimney sweep apprentice of Bert (Van Dyke) to assist her on the adventures, which include animated trips to the Ocean, a musical theater tent, and visit with Poppins’ distant cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep). Meanwhile, Michael and Jane try to pull some strings with the new bank manager Weatherall (Colin Firth), who may have a sinister agenda. The story culminates in a dash to the finish to save the Banks from financial ruin - and major effort to help Michael and Jane reevaluate what makes life worth living.

Mary Poppins Returns is a fine musical film, with dazzling production numbers, spectacular animation (integrated with live action) and a fun script. There are a lot of tie-ins and references to the original film, drawing older audiences to familiar emotions and memories. The music, songs, and dance numbers are all top notch (even though Miranda did not lend any of his composer talents to the film), unlike the 1964 film, the songs are not as quite as catchy, and I’d challenge anyone to whistle or hum any of the songs from Mary Poppins Returns, like you could with “Chim-Chim-ery,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Feed the Birds,” or “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Yes, the songs of Mary Poppins Returns are “Broadway” quality, but they are not destined to be classics. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a warning to lower your expectations, something to take into consideration when viewing any sequel, especially one attached to a Disney classic.

Emily Blunt is delightful as Poppins if not slightly more chipper than Julie Andrews’ interpretation of the same role. Blunt’s singing talent is more than adequate, yet not quite as near the scope of Andrews, either. Again, that’s not bad, it’s just not up to the same level.

There are other casting issues to circumvent as well. While Whishaw is obviously talented as a singer and actor, I had a tough time equating his adult persona as an extension of Mathew Garber, who played the role as a child.

Lin Manuel Miranda is also adequate as a replacement for Bert, offering a broad smile, a welcoming spirit, and a childlike wonder. He’s not Van Dyke (who makes a few cameos), but he’s he doesn’t weigh the film down in any way.

Speaking of cameos, there is an odd one in Mary Poppins Returns that seems like it was written for someone else. I’m speaking of Angela Lansbury, who shows up in the final production number as a magical balloon vendor in the park. This moment seems like it was intended for Julie Andrews, who refused to appear in the film out of respect for Blunt. It’s a nice gesture, but perhaps unnecessary for Andrews and it might have provided a nice lynchpin between the two films.   

Again, Mary Poppins Returns is a fine film, and just like its predecessor it has a wonderful message for families, and especially parents trying to provide temporal and emotional support for kids facing great uncertainties in the world.

Mary Poppins Returns Trailer