Time: 130 Minutes
Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack
Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks
Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks
Pixie Davies as Annabel Banks
Nathanael Saleh as John Banks
Joel Dawson as Georgie Banks
Julie Walters as Ellen
Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Jr.
Angela Lansbury as The Balloon Lady
Colin Firth as William “Weatherall” Wilkins
Meryl Streep as Topsy
Director: Rob Marshall
Now an adult with three children, bank teller Michael Banks (Ben Wishaw) learns that his house will be repossessed in five days unless he can pay back a loan. His only hope is to find a missing certificate that shows proof of valuable shares that his father left him years earlier. Just as all seems lost, Michael and his sister (Emily Mortimer) receive the surprise of a lifetime when Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) — the beloved nanny from their childhood — arrives to save the day and take the Banks family on a magical, fun-filled adventure.
Although I didn’t really grow up with it and really only first saw it when I was 13/14 years old, I really do like Mary Poppins, it’s a classic for a reason. When I heard about there being another Mary Poppins movie, I didn’t really think much of it. The director was Rob Marshall, who made Chicago (which is apparently good, I haven’t seen it yet) but also Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Into the Woods, both movies I wasn’t huge fans of. Not to mention I just didn’t feel the need for another Mary Poppins movie, thankfully it’s a sequel instead of yet another Disney remake. The only thing that somewhat interested me was Emily Blunt playing Mary Poppins, with Blunt being one of the best actresses working today. Mary Poppins Returns didn’t all completely work and was a bit of a mixed bag, with some elements working alright and others not working at all. Despite this, I do maintain that it is more than worth watching for Emily Blunt’s wonderful performance as Mary Poppins alone.
I’m going to get this out of the way: if you don’t like the original Mary Poppins, there’s pretty much no reason to watch this movie, because its very unlikely that you’ll like this one either. The movie is very derivative of the original, following somewhat similar story beats extremely closely, way too closely. I’ll just say that if you had problems with The Force Awakens being similar to A New Hope, you are probably going to have a field day with Mary Poppins Returns. At times it does similar things to the original but doesn’t do it as well oddly enough. For example, the original movie did have moments where Mary Poppins and the kids would go into different worlds or be part of a song and it would work seamlessly with the story and with what is going on. While Mary Poppins Returns have some moments like that, other moments feel really out of place and don’t work seamlessly with the story, some of them even feel like they could’ve been cut from the movie entirely. The biggest example is the Meryl Streep section which was basically a song routine that really didn’t need to be in the movie. To be fair to the movie, they do make nods to the first Mary Poppins movie but none of them were cringe worthy like they could’ve easily been. It’s rather odd that despite the movie being too similar to the original, every time it tried to do something different (which is something that I wished they did more), they really didn’t work. For example there’s a long sequence in a different world that was pretty good but it ends with this darkly lit carriage chase scene. While I get what that last bit is supposed to represent, I’m sure they could’ve found a way to illustrate that without this really intense chase scene which didn’t belong in the rest of the movie. That’s just one scene though, one of the long term problems was the fact that this movie has a villain played by Colin Firth. While I get given the story there’s a need for an antagonistic presence, instead of giving him like one or two scenes and not focussing much on him, they made him a full on character that’s in like 5 scenes. Honestly its like they couldn’t decide whether to be a minor part or a full on present antagonist and just settled for somewhere in between, which was honestly the worst decision to go with. There really was no reason for a villain, but even if it could’ve worked, they didn’t exactly give him much reason to be there. Although I was following the movie fine enough, I wasn’t really drawn into the magic or the world, or even much cared about the characters or the story. I just really wasn’t that all invested in what was going on.
As much as I bag on this movie for some of the things it does, Emily Blunt’s performance is ‘practically perfect in every way’. Everything from the voice, accent, acting, dancing and singing were absolutely on point every single scene she’s in. Blunt’s performance and the way that she’s portrayed is in line with the character but it doesn’t feel like its trying to be like Julie Andrews’s version. It’s a bit of an updated version of the character that works extremely well. Every time she was on screen, everything lit up and you forget the problems that are present. When she’s not present in the scene, you really start to notice the quality of the movie dipping and then pick right back up when she re-appears. The rest of the cast are actually alright but aren’t able to hold the movie up without Blunt. To be fair to Lin-Manuel Miranda, he does add quite a bit of energy to this movie. His character of Jack basically plays the stand in for Dick van Dyke’s Bert from the original, except instead of being a chimney sweep he’s a lamp lighter with a slightly better Cockney accent. He doesn’t quite equal the same amount of boundless energy that van Dyke brought but he was good. Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer are reasonably good as Michael and Jane Banks but don’t really leave that much of a lasting impression. Jane is present throughout the movie but its weird how they use her. There’s some mentions of her as a labour organiser quite frequently but it doesn’t really have any payoff by the end. There’s also some hints at a romance between her and Jack but that’s only shown in a few scenes and doesn’t really amount to anything. Her inclusion in the movie almost just felt obligatory since she was in the first movie. The kids played by Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson were good, they were at about the level of actors who played Michael and Jane in the original movie. Meryl Streep has one scene here and is basically the star of the aforementioned unnecessary song routine. Despite my problems with the scene being there, Streep gives a lot of energy in her one scene, so I guess credits should go to her for that. The problem wasn’t her, it was more the fact that the scene even exists. Colin Firth as I said plays the villain and you know how I feel about the use of a villain in the movie. It is nice seeing him in a more villainous role and does partially ham it up but unfortunately wasn’t even memorable. If his character was featured more, went more hammy or even had his own song routine (yes I know, Colin Firth doing a song routine doesn’t sound that appealing), he might’ve given a lasting impression given that the movie wants the antagonistic presence to be a character and have the audience to somewhat remember him given that they cast an A list actor in the part.
As I said earlier, wasn’t a huge fan of Rob Marshall or his Into the Woods, but his direction of the movie was actually pretty good. His direction of Mary Poppins Returns was also quite good. Mary Poppins Returns has a mix of modern day visual effects along with some classic looking animation ripped straight from the Julie Andrews original movie, giving it that nostalgic feeling that actually worked quite well. Now a big part of Mary Poppins is the music. I don’t envy anyone having to create the music for a sequel to a movie with some incredibly iconic songs. So I don’t exactly blame them for creating songs that weren’t all that memorable. All that said, while I don’t remember all the songs, I at least remember the set up, location and the visuals of the scene. The choreography and some of the creativity done were really strong. The most memorable song was ‘The Cover is Not the Book’, and there are some other songs which I could remember parts of. The ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ section was really too long though and dragged on.
Mary Poppins Returns really doesn’t all work and I feel like it might’ve worked a little more if it was released maybe 2 decades or 3 after the original movie. While the cast is generally alright and there are aspects of the direction which work well, there’s a lot which don’t work and just wasn’t all that memorable. With all that said, there are some alright bits to it and you pretty much need to watch it for Emily Blunt, who is the saving grace of the movie and holds everything together. Again though if you don’t like Mary Poppins, you aren’t going to like this one either.