REVIEW: ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ Finally!

Everyone’s favorite magical nanny (except for the Nanny McFee superfans) is back to salvage the Banks family once more in Walt Disney Studios’ new “Mary Poppins Returns.”

Mary Poppins Returns Poster

A sequel to the 1964 classic, “Mary Poppins Returns” shows us the Banks children some 20 years after we last saw them gleefully flying a kite in the park with their parents.  In the interim, Jane has taken up her mother’s interest in crusading for human rights, while Michael has fathered three children but recently lost their mother.

Jane and Michael Banks and children… and Mary Poppins ©Disney

The loss of his wife has sent Michael into a depression, both psychological and financial, which has begun to leech all the joy from 17 Cherry Tree Lane.  Enter Mary Poppins, to once again show the Banks children — elder and younger — how to come together and be a family.

Mary Poppins Returns ©Disney

It is as unfair as it is inevitable to compare “Returns” to its progenitor, which in many ways is as practically perfect a film as exists.  Made by Walt Disney and his studio at the height of their live-action film-making powers, the original hits the mark on virtually every level and is rightly and widely beloved.

The ORIGINAL Mary Poppins  ©Disney

“Mary Poppins Returns” is clearly a love letter to the first film, with careful attention to all the little details and quirks that gave the original life.  Director Rob Marshall creates a London that looks as wondrous as it did back in the Peter Ellenshaw matte paintings, with just a dark hint of 1930’s London’s Great Depression.  Sandy Powell’s costumes give Mary Poppins the same recognizable silhouette with slightly modernized touches and bold colors to contrast with the era’s more drab reality.

Scene from Mary Poppins Returns ©Disney

The performances are really very good — Emily Blunt, exercising her vocal chops again as she did in “Into The Woods” manages to give us a portrayal of Mary Poppins that seems genuine and true to the books, without being a mimicry of Julie Andrews.  Lin-Manuel Miranda also grounds the story with Lamplighter Jack’s working-class wisdom and irrepressible optimism.  They both have several big production numbers, of which Miranda’s “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is the standout, featuring everything from parkour to BMX stunt bikes.

There are, in fact so many big production numbers that it almost starts to feel like a little too much, particularly in the first half where “Can You Imagine That?”, “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” and “A Cover Is Not The Book” follow pretty closely one after the other.  From CG dolphins to 2D circus animals, the sheer volume of spectacle begins to feel a little overwhelming and one longs for a quiet “Feed the Birds” moment.  When it comes, in the form of “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” the message seems a bit confusing — lyrics such as “nothing’s gone forever, only out of place” almost feel like they could give the children the impression that they have literally lost their mother, and might find her at the market someday.

Scene from Mary Poppins Returns ©Disney

The Marc Shaiman music is charming in its way and is particularly effective when Miranda gets his specialty numbers, much like Danny Kaye used to do in his films — there is a moment in “A Cover Is Not The Book” where we get to hear the syncopation he made such a smash with in “Hamilton.”  Oddly enough, although the songs are cleverly done and in large part mirror the original score, they end up having a very similar feel, perhaps in part due to the lush orchestration that backs all of them.

A Cover Is Not The Book from Mary Poppins Returns ©Disney

The plotting seems a little haphazard, particularly compared to the tightness of the writing on the first film, and employs some devices at the end that seem more convenient than logical.  Some scenes are puzzling, such as one where people desperately try to scale a wall, while Mary Poppins looks on… despite the fact that if there’s one thing everyone knows about Mary Poppins, it’s that she can fly.

Scene from Mary Poppins Returns ©Disney

The moment Dick Van Dyke appears, however, the film takes on new life and both his and Angela Lansbury’s numbers are transcendent.  Beyond just nostalgia, the two are stars of the highest magnitude and prove once again that they can elevate any project with their presence.

Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins Returns ©Disney

At the end of the day, “Mary Poppins Returns” is a glorious return to the days of big movie musical production.  It looks good and sounds good and if it doesn’t quite meet up to the standards of “Mary Poppins,” it’s certainly not alone in that.

Scene from Mary Poppins Returns ©Disney

“Mary Poppins Returns” is directed by Rob Marshall from a screenplay by David Magee and a screen story by Magee & Marshall & John DeLuca based upon the Mary Poppins Stories by PL Travers.  The film stars: Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins; Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack; Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks; Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks; Julie Walters as Ellen; Pixie Davies, Nathanael
Saleh and Joel Dawson as the Banks children; with Colin Firth as William Weatherall Wilkins; and Meryl Streep as Cousin Topsy.

The film is rated PG and enters US release on December 19, 2018.

Will you be seeing “Mary Poppins Returns” over the holidays?

Advance tickets for Mary Poppins Returns are now available for purchase here.

Do you agree with our reviewer’s take on the film? Leave a note in the comments below.

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Jeanine resides in Southern California, pursuing the sort of lifestyle that makes her the envy of every 11-year-old she meets. She has been to every Disney theme park in the world and while she finds Tokyo DisneySea the Fairest Of Them All, Disneyland is her Home Park... and there is no place like home.

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2 Replies to “REVIEW: ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ Finally!”

  1. I saw “Mary Poppins Returns” for first time last night, and we came away feeling that it is a sad mish-mash of a film. The first 5 to 10 (maybe 15?) minutes of the film dragged on surprisingly slowly and lacked the whiz-bang whimsical opening sequences which the original so effectively employed to get things going. Instead we were subjected to many “heavy” elements from the outset which repeatedly broke me out of the fantasy world of being in the presence of a confident no-nonsense yet uplifting magical nanny. I found it abhorrent that the storytelling in the film subjected the viewer to missing mortgage payments, home repossession, depression, death of a close loved one, evil and greed of the senior banker and his lawyers, and much more. The original film steered very clear of these deep and troubling heavy story elements and very effectively remained one or two whole levels above where this sequel so often ended up dwelling. There was a noticeable overall lack of poignant and emotionally engaging moments. The CGI was (as expected) great but often missing a cohesive thread of whimsy (in favor of eye candy) which was so clearly present and so effective in the low-tech original. (“It’s all about the story, not the technology.”) The music was less than memorable. The out-of-context BMX stunts in the 1930’s-era setting was puzzling. But there were definitely some very good performances by the actors, but that was often diluted by clumsy direction and plot devices and distracting heaviness of some of the material. Overall I felt this was a highly-anticipated film which unfortunately failed to effectively realize its true potential with the subject matter. How “repeatable” is this sequel? For me, not very, as a few fairly straight-forward lessons which could be learned from the craftsmanship of the original could have been applied to significantly elevate this work. Poignant and emotionally engaging moments with the actors were surprisingly sparse or missing entirely. The predictable and somewhat abrupt ending confirmed to me that this was not very close to a well-crafted sequel. It is very disappointing that Disney produced this now and with so many lessons not taken and applied from what made the original work so well. While I did not expect perfection from this film, I certainly was surprised by the low emotional impact of the story and these beloved characters. Yet 95% of my friends and family who have seen it loved it. So, the next day, I am conflicted about what I saw in this film, and that is troubling. I think I will be very disappointed by any Academy Award nominations. And I do think I will have to go see it again. Another viewing is only fair considering the magnitude of the original and the incredibly high standard which it set before us. I’m just disappointed that straight-off I saw so little of the elegantly-crafted whimsy and magic which was so effectively presented throughout the original. It’s all about effective story telling which seems harder to find these days.

    1. Yeah–as I said, I think it’s a little unfair to compare it to the original because it was so great…but at the same time it’s almost impossible not to compare it. I think they went for a darker feel to try to differentiate it a little from the first film which was perhaps made in a different time for a different audience. Hopefully the sequel will be even better, but in any case, I’m grateful we’ll always have the original film to enjoy.