The original Mary Poppins is often recognized as the crowning live-action achievement of Walt Disney’s career, and is also most notable for being the only Disney production to earn a Best Picture nomination during his lifetime. But so fervent was author P. L. Travers’s dislike of the changes that Disney made to a story that she once created, we wouldn’t end up seeing another Mary Poppins film until much later. So it only leaves me wondering what can be pulled off with a belated sequel, 54 years later. But how exactly would such a long wait between the two films provide, especially when trying to reach out for a newer audience with Mary Poppins Returns? Trying to recapture the charm that Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke have only ever made so distinctive would be one challenge, especially with trying to reach another audience, and Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda make the very best of it here. That alone could provide a lot for some viewers but I was only ever left wondering what else would be coming by in order to allow this story to feel so distinctive from its predecessor after so long.
Set in 1930’s London amidst the Great Depression, the Banks children whom Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) had raised are now grown up (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as the brother and sister), but also struggling to provide enough money to overcome a loan that would cost them their home. While the now-grown Banks children are still looking for a way out of this mess, Mary Poppins tends to their own kids by opening up their own imagination and allowing their own spirits to persevere even through the nature of the situation that their parents have caught themselves within, just as she had already done in the past. If it weren’t already clear enough, that would mean Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t show a new perspective on Mary Poppins herself but it’s essentially the same film as the first. That isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it’s also where I start wondering where this film could easily have been something far greater only sees that maybe its potential hasn’t been fully realized. It’s already been so long since we last saw Mary Poppins coming to the screen, and everything just shows itself to be the same as it has always been, because the nostalgia recurs from first moment to the last – which would already mean that the charm would win over those who’ve grown up around Mary Poppins, yet I only wonder what more that would do for those unfamiliar with the character.
At the very least, I’d only imagine that Rob Marshall could at least try to capture what allowed Mary Poppins to carry such a long lasting impact on audiences that have grown up around the character – and to say the least, it would be easy to say that very spirit that made her so distinctive still remains on the screen. Emily Blunt’s new take on the character is every bit as wonderful as one would ever expect her to be, because she’s always remained one of the most charming onscreen presences in recent memory. She’s no Julie Andrews, but for a new take for a new audience, she does wonderfully. There’s also a whole lot to admire about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s counterpart to Dick Van Dyke’s Bert from the original film – and of course, the children are excellent. Everyone in the cast is either doing well enough to fit their roles or incredibly, but I think that also says volumes about what we can expect from Mary Poppins Returns as a whole.
The charm can only go far enough, because beyond that attempt at trying to capture something for new audiences – but the structure remains the same. Not that it’s terrible, but the lack of inventiveness in terms of the story, which is essentially the same as the original film – doesn’t offer much to carry a lasting impact. Most of the musical numbers, strangely enough, are also quite forgettable, which a lot of the charm feel artificial. Which is a shame because the elaborate set designs are already a sight to behold, and the animation for the Royal Doulton Bowl sequence is amazing, only to be backed up by an equally forgettable musical number. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” is the best song without question, but there’s a stunning lack of joy present in the way Rob Marshall lets everything on the screen, which says volumes with the very beauty of the film’s set design. Some of it rings as just being nothing more than hollow nostalgia, which only begins to suck away from the charm slowly – and it never feels like it offers more than a mere escape for two hours.
Mary Poppins Returns isn’t bad by any means, but I can’t put my finger on much else I enjoyed beyond Emily Blunt – whom I’ve always enjoyed on the screen. I could easily watch another film with Emily Blunt’s take on Mary Poppins lasting longer, I think that’s all I could easily say I really enjoyed from watching Mary Poppins Returns, but so much of the best aspects of the original film feel watered down and devoid of that same sort of charm. Nothing of course would take away from Emily Blunt’s charisma on the screen, and her chemistry with Lin-Manuel Miranda makes for a worthwhile watch. But I don’t know if I can take a film all about the dangers of capitalism from a corporation much like Disney, that there would already be indicative of the cynicism that came forward. It’s a film where everything feels so right, yet so wrong – only begging the question as to what was to be gained from this.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Directed by Rob Marshall
Screenplay by David Magee, from the book series Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
Produced by Rob Marshall, John DeLuca, Marc Platt
Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep
Release Date: December 19, 2018
Running Time: 130 minutes