Mary Poppins Returns Review: A Not So Jolly Holiday With Mary
For the past several weeks, I have been seriously debating whether or not I should write a review for Mary Poppins Returns. If you know me, you probably know that I adore musicals regardless of whether they are on stage or the big screen. My favorite film of 2016 was La La Land, and my favorite film of 2017 was The Greatest Showman. That being said, I went into Mary Poppins Returns with certain expectations. Like many, I watched Mary Poppins a lot as a kid, and despite not seeing the film for nearly a decade, I can still remember the story and all of the songs because they were catchy and memorable.
When I initially heard about Mary Poppins Returns, I wasn’t too excited about it. It wasn’t until Disney announced that Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda were attached that I got on-board with the project. Then I heard that the film was going to feature original songs written by Marc Shaiman, who I consider to be one of the best songwriters in the business. For those who are unaware of Shaiman’s work, he is the man who wrote the music for the Hairspray musical. He also wrote the music for Sister Act, South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, Down with Love, and Martin Short’s Broadway musical, Fame Becomes Me. However, even with all those things making me excited to see the film, I still walked into Mary Poppins Returns with mild expectations because you never know what to expect from a movie musical.
Mary Poppins Returns is a sequel to Mary Poppins but isn’t a direct adaptation of one of P. L. Travers’ novels featuring the title character, Mary Poppins. For those who aren’t aware of the history behind the original film, Travers wasn’t exactly thrilled with how Mary Poppins turned out. Travers often spoke negatively about the 1964 film as she didn’t feel like it accurately represented her novels. However, over the years, she eventually accepted that the film existed despite not being overly thrilled with it. This new film which works as a direct sequel to the original film was written by David Magee, who worked alongside Rob Marshall and John DeLuca on developing the story before eventually writing the screenplay.
Taking place roughly two decades after the events of the original film, Mary Poppins Returns follows Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) as they are now grown up and living their lives as adults. While Jane is doing seemingly well, Michael, on the other hand, is not. Still struggling emotionally due to the sudden and unexpected loss of his wife, Michael receives even more bad news when he is informed that his house is about to be repossessed by the bank. As Jane attempts to help Michael save their beloved childhood home, Mary Poppins returns to help Michael by looking after his three children, Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson).
The film opens on Jack (Lin Manuel Miranda) singing the song, Underneath the Lovely London Sky. This opening number leads the audience to believe that they are in for a real treat as this song sets the bar high for the rest of the film. However, I am sad to report that none of the other musical numbers live up to this opening song which also just so happens to bookend the film. Even though I liked Underneath the Lovely London Sky, I can honestly say that I don’t remember much of the song which brings me to one of the biggest issues that I had with the film as a whole.
If you are creating a musical whether it’s for Broadway, television or film, the songs in the musical should stick with the audience. Anyone who grew up watching musicals knows that any good musical has at least two or three songs that get stuck in your head. As I walked out of Mary Poppins Returns, I didn’t have any song stuck in my head nor did I remember the majority of the songs sung throughout the film which leads me to my next problem. The film Mary Poppins regardless of whether or not you like it or not is a very iconic film. It felt fresh at the time and was memorable. This film is not memorable at all. It is completely forgettable. There is nothing about the songs, characters, or story that will stand out in a few weeks from now, let alone in a year or two.
It pains me to say this, but Mary Poppins Returns a throwaway film. It constantly tries to remind its audience of the original film as well as the stories of P.L. Travers, but it ultimately lacks that magical touch. Several friends and I who have seen this film have joked about how this movie feels like it is a sequel where the people involved loved the original but weren’t able to obtain the rights. What makes me say that…well, a lot of things. To give you a few examples, Jack is a lamplighter rather than a chimney sweep. There is no song about a kite, but instead, there is one about a balloon. The animation mixed with real-life sequence from the original film is done again here, and although it is visually stunning, the scene just doesn’t hold the same weight that the one similar to it in the original had. There are plenty of other examples, but you can see them for yourself if you decide to see the film.
I realize that it seems like I hate this film but I don’t. I just found it to be so incredibly mediocre. I can’t help it that the film left me feeling disappointed. I do believe there are some great things about the film; There are a few scenes that even the harshest critics can’t help but admit worked — for example, the scene where Mary Poppins comes down to earth bringing back Georgie’s kite or the one where Dick Van Dyke appears which has sadly been ruined for most audiences thanks to the internet. I also loved the set and costume design. Lastly, I did love Lin Manuel Miranda as Jack and Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins. While Miranda’s take on Jack felt a lot like he was paying homage to Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, Blunt didn’t try to mimic Julie Andrews but instead made the character her own. This film proves once again why Blunt is such a remarkable talent because she can take on any role and make it special. She is easily one of the best actresses working today, and I applaud her for taking on this project considering how iconic it is and how she makes it work in her favor.
I have a few other negative things to say about the film like how there are several things that just don’t add up, how certain actors are completely wasted, or how the scene featuring Meryl Streep’s Topsy is completely pointless. I won’t go into too much detail simply because I don’t want to ruin the film for anyone who reads this review and wants to see it. All I can say is pay close attention to the story which I’m also sorry to say is clichéd, predictable, and generic. I think many audience members will agree that a lot of things brought up in the film either don’t add up or are introduced and then completely ignored or underdeveloped. The script just felt like peices were missing despite the fact that the film as a whole felt overly long and was very poorly paced.
All in all, Mary Poppins Returns is a visually stunning film with two great performances that manage to shine high above the film’s bland story and forgettable musical numbers. Mary Poppins Returns biggest flaw is that script spends way too much time making nods to the original and Travers’ stories, which will remind the audiences of what the film could and should have been. I don’t think this is a bad film by any means but one that just misses the mark. If you are curious about seeing Mary Poppins Returns please, by all means, see it and form your own opinion, but I don’t recommend paying full price for it. See it at a matinee or wait for it to hit Blu-Ray in a few months.