The following is my review and represents my opinion. No matter if you agree or disagree, I would like to have a discussion about the film and promote this wonderful art form. All I ask: be nice about it. Art is subjective and no one’s opinion is right.
Having now grown up, father of three, Michael Banks(Ben Wishaw), must source a large sum of money, within a short period of time, to pay off a loan and prevent the repossession of his childhood home. Luckily, Mary Poppins(Emily Blunt) – a nanny from his youth – makes her glorious return to look after his children. And as she returns: so does the magic.
Truthfully, I am not as attached to Mary Poppins as many other critics are. But one needs only look towards a Mark Kermode(whose video review of Returns I highly recommend) to see how much of an impact it has had on those who grew up with it. In preparation, I decided to rewatch that 1964 classic again, little over 12 hours before I watched Mary Poppins Returns. So within a 24 hour period, I may have had enough quirky wonder and bewilderment for one lifetime. Regardless, the original film was… good. Not amazing or life-changing to me, but good. And Returns falls into a similar boat: a finely crafted film with a wonderful lead performance but a haphazard plot that is quite overbearing. The only difference being Mary Poppins was original: this is not.
Part of the reason I cannot hold this film to the same calibre as the original Disney classic is that it feels too much like the original Disney classic. From general connections like the Banks family’s prominence to the startlingly similar vibes I got from yet another visit to a quirky town-resident, yet another banking-focused plot and yet another spectacular dance set-piece, now with Streetlight Cleaners instead of Chimney Sweepers. Not to say I think any of the set-pieces lacked in quality(Meryl Streep is particularly memorable with her peculiar accent in the very fun ‘Turning Turtle’) or quantity(it is perhaps 30 minutes too long): they just lacked uniqueness and a purpose.
An underlying moral of positivity and optimism does radiate through these sequences, but they use an almost identical plot path to traverse between them. It makes one change by now featuring a defined antagonist in the form of Colin Firth(I’d say spoiler alert but a minute after you meet him his plan is revealed), but while that neatly coincides with modern standards and expectations: it also defeats the object of the moral. Mary Poppins had a minor antagonist in the form of the Bank but it wasn’t intentionally evil or cruel like it is here, which loses the innocence and childlike wonder, and the endearingness of the moral. When its good against evil as opposed to good for all, the storytelling balance shifts to the normative; also known as the antitheses of Mary Poppins‘ ‘spoon full of sugar’ drug-trip.
But as one of the trailers states, ‘the magic always returns’. Emily Blunt is fantastic as Mary Poppins and delivers a thoughtful, engaging and entertaining performance that is Poppins to the core(with an extra spice of sassiness) but never feels derivative of Julie Andrews. Likewise, Ben Wishaw is excellent as the grown-up Michael Banks, Julie Walters shines with humour as the quirky house-maid Ellen and Lin-Manuel Miranda is delightfully charming and effortlessly likeable as Jack, the stand-in for Dick Van Dyke‘s fan-favourite Burt. With equal charm, the music is annoyingly catchy and moving: especially Blunt‘s lullaby solo ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’, which is capable of crumbling anyone into tears.
The look and feel of the film is very Poppins-esque – and the costuming, sets and production design embrace the warm glow of the original film. Sequences where animation and live-action are used in unison also look superb, with modern technologies allowing a smoother transition that still doesn’t lose the charming surreal oddity of the first film’s set pieces. Each set-piece transports you to another world; embracing the innocence of youth and the sweetness of imagination through an intentionally cartoony design that gives it an extra ‘element of fun’.
Ultimately, it is more of the same. And by more of the same, I mean ‘more’ of the exact ‘same’. Nothing in this film feels inspired, original, thoughtful or necessary: but it exists, and I am glad to have seen it. Perhaps the double-dip onslaught I endured to get the most out of this film has given me enough Poppins(as a spoon full of sugar) for a long time, but I do believe it is worth a watch. Joviality and positivity are the two greatest emotions a human can experience; and much like a Paddington or a Love, Simon – this film delivers it in spades. It’s sweet, charming and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!