You should know before I begin this review that the original Mary Poppins is my favorite movie and got me through difficult times in my life. That being said I will try to review the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, with as little bias possible, but my perspective will definitely color my writing.
Mary Poppins Returns is a perfectly acceptable movie. It has a charming cast, fun music, and a serviceable story. In fact, if it didn’t have the title Mary Poppins Returns I would say that it is a fun but forgettable 2 hours that you can take the whole family to. The problem is that this is a sequel to one of the most innovative films of all time, and Mary Poppins deserves better.
Perhaps the film’s biggest crime is just how unoriginal and derivative it really is. I would’ve had more respect for this film if it took the story in an entirely different or crazy direction. Instead, we get an almost play by play remake of the original film without any of the charm or understanding about why it worked in the first place.
Instead of the children jumping into a chalk painting, they jump into a bowl. Instead of dancing Chimney Sweeps on a rooftop, there are dancing lamplighters, who looked exactly like the Chimney Sweeps? Instead of flying a kite, they play with some balloons and this rinse and repeat continues for just about every scene. Unfortunately, the film crosses the line from homage into straight-up copy but none of it is as charming as it was the first time around.
There are new elements introduced here that attempt to raise the stakes, such as a traditional antagonist in Colin Firth’s character Mr. Wilkens and an action-packed climax, but there is not nearly enough of these additions to make it stand on its own without the original.
I understand that it is impossible to follow up Julie Andrews and you don’t want to do an impression, but Emily Blunt’s Poppins is missing the softer edge that Andrews brought to the role. Sure she smiles and laughs with the children, but while Andrews is “Kind but extremely firm,” Blunt is only firm during the majority of her interactions with the kids. She does get a few moments to shine but they are few and far between.
Lin Manuel Miranda’s Jack feels like a copy of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert from the original film. Which wouldn’t have been an issue if he was playing Bert, but he’s not. He’s just the same working-class guy with the same horrendous cockney accent and cheery disposition that has a history with Mary Poppins, but not Bert. Van Dyke’s performance brought so much charm and heart to the original film and Miranda just doesn’t hold a candle to it. I also felt that Bert’s presence was really missing from this story and having him explained away with one particularly weak line of dialogue was incredibly frustrating.
The rest of the cast is fine but they are not given much to do. The returning minor characters such as Ellen (Julie Walters) and Admiral Boom (David Warner) felt like the only reason they were there was because they were in the original film, but they really didn’t work with the story this movie was trying to tell.
You can’t help but compare the music between the two films. Mary Poppins has some of the most iconic music in film history and while there are some great tunes in Returns, like “A Cover Is Not The Book,” the majority of the music is pretty disappointing. The melodies and lyrics are generic and forgettable and instead of doing something new and interesting to make this film stand out, they have the music try to hit all the same beats as the original. Songs like ” Trip A Little Light Fantastic”, are trying to be “Step In Time” expect this time it’s the Lamplighters dancing around London and performing stunts to entertain Mary Poppins and the kids instead of the Chimney Sweeps. Every song in this film has a direct comparison to one in the original, but none of the new music is half as charming or interesting as “Chim Chim Chree” “Jolly Holiday” or “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”. This combined with the lackluster story and characters makes the film feel more like a rip off than a sequel.
I was incredibly disappointed with Mary Poppins Returns. It could’ve been something really special, but instead it focused too much on playing to the nostalgia of the original film, while completely missing why that film was so special in the first place. However, I know that I am more attached to Mary Poppins than most people and I think that if you went into this film with some knowledge and appreciation of the original you will enjoy it.
It is nothing groundbreaking or extraordinary, but if you’re looking for something light to take the family to this holiday season you really can’t go wrong here, but if you’re a huge fan of the original like myself you might find that there is no spoonful of sugar big enough to help this go down.
Mary Poppins Returns is streaming on Disney+ and VOD.
Mary Poppins Returns
I was incredibly disappointed with Mary Poppins Returns. It could’ve been something really special, but instead it focused too much on playing to the nostalgia of the original film, while completely missing why that film was so special in the first place.