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Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Directed by: Rob Marshall

Premise: Decades after the 1964 film, magical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) reenters the lives of the Banks family, including the now grown Michael and Jane (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer) whose family home is facing foreclosure.

What Works: Mary Poppins Returns is a successful nostalgia sequel, bridging past and present. The film has an old fashioned feel, recalling the classic live action films Disney produced in the 1960s but it’s made in a way that will play for the contemporary audience. The visual style looks analog and Mary Poppins Returns includes callbacks to the 1964 picture but without being obnoxious about it or overly relying on nostalgia to carry the new film. Like its predecessor, Mary Poppins Returns is a musical and hereto the sequel recalls the original film. None of the new tunes are as memorable as “A Spoonful of Sugar” or “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” but they are consistent with the tone of the first film while giving the sequel its own unique musical stamp. What’s more impressive is the choreography, editing and overall showmanship of the musical numbers. Mary Poppins Returns was directed by Rob Marshall who had previously helmed Chicago and Into the Woods and Marshall brings an appreciation for classic Hollywood musicals and a contemporary filmmaking sensibility. The success of Mary Poppins Returns can also be credited to Emily Blunt’s performance in the title role. Blunt replicates the character played by Julie Andrews in the 1964 picture but Blunt’s Mary Poppins is droller and funnier.   

What Doesn’t: The story of Mary Poppins Returns is weak. Some of the narrative problems are structural. There’s very little cause and effect driving the story; one scene doesn’t lead logically to the next and many of the set pieces are musical interludes that don’t advance character or plot. Many scenes could be rearranged or cut out entirely without interrupting the story. Mary Poppins Returns also suffers from a lack of breathing room. The film feels overstuffed. There’s little downtime between musical numbers and the filmmakers rush from one set piece to the next. As a result, the viewer doesn’t get to savor any of the musical performance because the film rushes into the next one. Mary Poppins Returns also lacks substance. The original film was about a father coming around to see to his children as people to be nurtured instead of annoyances to be dealt with and thereby becomes a better parent. Mary Poppins Returns never gets to anything that meaningful. Just as the target in the original film was the patriarch of the Banks family, Mary Poppins intends to influence Michael and help his family save their home. But the movie doesn’t give Michael nearly enough screen time, instead focusing on musical numbers with Mary Poppins, Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), and the children.   

Bottom Line: Mary Poppins Returns is an impressive production and a satisfying piece of entertainment. But it’s also a superficial work that is unlikely to be embraced the way the original was.

Episode: #731 (December 30, 2018)