REVIEW: Mary Poppins Returns

The next two decades at Disney will play out like this: Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins Returns, “Mary Poppins Forever”, “Mary Poppins and Robin”, “Mary Poppins Begins”, “The British Nanny”, “The British Nanny Rises”, “Mary Poppins v Sherry Bobbins: Dawn of Bath Time”.

In 1930s London, the magical nanny, Mary Poppins, returns to the Banks family to assist them in times of tragedy.

Another year, another one of Disney’s multiple attempts to revitalise one of their classic films. Playing as a sequel to the 1960s original, Mary Poppins Returns wasted no time in whisking away its audience to greater fantasies and undeniable magic. Feeling like a genuine attempt from Disney to reignite fascination in a popular element of 19th century nostalgia whilst also softly reintroducing the world and its characters to new audiences, Mary Poppins Returns felt like a relaxed surrender to good-hearted, family-friendly filmmaking thanks to some awesome musical numbers and a standout lead performance from one Emily Blunt.

About twelve months ago now, I saw a little old film called The Greatest Showman to which, if you know me, I loathed with a great passion. The Greatest Showman was not only a disappointment to me, but a horrible dedication to cinema that I don’t like discussing with anyone… because it gets me so DAMN ANGRY. Either way, Mary Poppins Returns was basically what I expected The Greatest Showman to be in a whimsical and fantastical musical-based rhythmic adventure. Mary Poppins Returns captured the essence of its original, never mind its inability to never exactly match up to it – but then again, how could it ever have done so? The original Mary Poppins is one of the greatest musicals ever committed to film and will forever be seen as a classic among generations for varied purposes. Mary Poppins Returns could never match up to something of the original’s magnitude as, in comparison, I would say the long-awaited sequel is more-or-less on the side of serviceable rather than a genius cinematic classic in the making. Mary Poppins Returns will not work for everybody as most may see it as a rather shallow cash in on generations of nostalgia. Although, on the flip side, the film may also be adored by many as a fulfilling affair that will remind audiences of a simpler more magical time from their youths. Point I’m trying to make here is, whatever way you see it, Mary Poppins Returns is a greater quality musical than The Greatest Showman – plain and simple.

To be honest, I do not think Mary Poppins Returns would have worked as well as it had if it were not for the superb casting of Emily Blunt as the titular nanny. Blunt’s performance was so reminiscent of Julie Andrews’, but also rather different and separate. Blunt was (and no pun intended) rather blunt as the character, sharing a side of seriousness and undoubtable straightness with another side of bright, twinkling excitement. Not to mention, her screen presence in the film’s grander scaled musical sequences really sold Mary Poppins Returns as this vast and expressive Disney feature, attached to the tone and moods of 1960s family cinema. Not to mention, alongside Blunt came Lin-Manuel Miranda, whom I am not the biggest fan of personally, but in his right place – his right groove – the man is like uncontrollable electricity. Miranda, along with Blunt, turned out a fabulous, attractive performance that lifted the scripted material far from its few sheets and into a sparkling visual feast.

In terms of narrative structure, Mary Poppins Returns felt very similar to that of Star Wars: The Force Awakens… yeah I know, weird comparison right? If you’ll remember, what The Force Awakens was, was not only a long-awaited sequel to a popular film franchise but also a soft reboot in the way that the story adhered to almost exactly the same structure as the original with a few slight changes, here and there, in order to allow the film to feel new and fresh to audiences. Similarly, Mary Poppins Returns adhered to generally the exact same plot as its original with only few minor changes, here and there, to present audiences with the feel of a glossy new sheen to the movie’s proceedings. Mary Poppins Returns committed to an original familiar plotline to not only evoke further nostalgia but also subtly reinvent a concept for a new audience without a further need to shake up the formula. The question then comes in if aligning itself with the original helped or faltered Mary Poppins Returns in its ability to story tell. Well… I kind of have to lean both ways…

Although being rather mesmerising in its frequent nostalgic callbacks to the past in plot and character, Mary Poppins Returns had already seemingly captured the essence of its original, further begging the question – is the spirit of the original not enough of a blueprint to construct a sequel? In my eyes, a sequel is meant to advance a story and, in my opinion, Mary Poppins Returns did not entirely do that. And if the advancement of the story’s not an option, then surely the advancement of themes would suffice in building a follow-up… but Mary Poppins Returns didn’t even seem to do that either. And you would think, wouldn’t The Force Awakens have the same problem? Yes it does – and I felt that repetitive structure from A New Hope was The Force Awakens poorest element; but what The Force Awakens lost in structure, it managed to make up for in spectacle and the same goes, I would say, for Mary Poppins Returns.

(Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture, 2018)

There were sequences in Mary Poppins Returns that truly had me spellbound. Two musical moments in particular really sold me on the fun and excitement this film had to offer: a sing-song in the bathtub and an enchanted adventure in a bowl (yes… I said a “bowl”). There were moments in Mary Poppins Returns where the song and dance would combine to remind one of golden age Disney. The film also featured animation in certain sequences to which I honesty loved. I am going to be a bit bias here because I have a huge soft spot for animation but to see the visual depiction of 2D animation once again in a Disney film really boosted that dopamine rush surging inside me. And that’s basically what Mary Poppins Returns was – a constant series of dopamine rushes, utilised by Disney to satisfy their audience with recognisable pleasures.

Mary Poppins Returns was a well calculated move to hit on several elements of it’s audiences childhoods, therefore giving all it’s viewers something to wholeheartedly enjoy in a nostalgic way. And maybe this route in making a sequel is rather cheap and a bit of a muchness, but its still pleasurable – its still entertaining. Say what you want about how Mary Poppins Returns is not that original or fresh, but it is classic. Not to say this film will become a “classic”, but Mary Poppins Returns understood what a classic is and how to manipulate said classical feeling to create something completely indulgent and fulfilling. Mary Poppins Returns understood what had people fall in love with the original – a sense of magic that can only strictly come from the essence of Disney… and I mean true Disney.

Mary Poppins Returns felt magical. And I mean that Disney flavoured magical – that good stuff you cannot find around town nowadays.

As for the rest of the film, Mary Poppins Returns was rather quaint and imaginative in its minor details. The performances of Julie Walters, Colin Firth and Meryl Streep were extremely one note but, at the same time, comfortably and enjoyably reminiscent of old classic, cackling Disney villains and jolly sidekicks. The children were fine but not exactly given much character – they definitely had nothing on the charming children of Nanny McPhee, that’s for sure. The movie also tried leaning a lot of its emotional weight on Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as the grown up Banks children, but never did Mary Poppins Returns actually succeed in highlighting them as the emotional undercurrents of the film – as they should have been. Mary Poppins Returns just lacked the focus on more of the necessities to make the film emotionally impactful and resenting rather than just a recall of old school Disney magic. Don’t get me wrong – I still very much liked this film, but Mary Poppins Returns would have benefitted on more detailing of its substance rather than just its style.

Also, I would like to add my thoughts on the brief appearance from the one and only Dick Van Dyke… man is that guy a legend. He may not be in it much and when he does appear his character inclusion can be seen as a bit of a ham-fisted Deus Ex Machina but, Van Dyke was so charming and captivating that honestly all can be forgiven. Van Dyke looked so happy and jolly and chipper that his brief time on screen could be seen as the highlight of Mary Poppins Returns as the truest, most deeply heartfelt callback to the original… which brings me to my final point…

As fun and nostalgic Mary Poppins Returns was, I have to admit that if you were wanting to see this film, my advice would just be to re-watch or watch, for the first time, the original Mary Poppins instead. It’s difficult to beat the original – especially when its pure gold – and even though Mary Poppins Returns was a good movie, I don’t think it should retract from people either revisiting or falling in love with the magic of the original. Mary Poppins Returns was light, joyous and inventive, but the 1960s Mary Poppins should be your first priority. Mary Poppins Returns may never be the fantasy that was its predecessor, with minimal plot and theme advancements and lack of some character, but it does seemingly possess the most important element of a sequel – and that’s the spirit of its original. Mary Poppins Returns was entertaining… and honestly, that’s all it truly needed to be.

Mary Poppins Returns is a bloody… CRUSADE!!


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