Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns - Review

The staying power of the original Mary Poppins is unquestionable, from the work of Julie Andrews, to the music, and to the visual artistry on display. It is a classic in every sense of the word, which only makes the prospects of a sequel all the more difficult nearly fifty-four years later. And while Mary Poppins Returns may not quite live up to its predecessor, its ability to stay within the parameters of the original’s themes make it worthwhile in some fashion.

Now an adult with three children, bank teller Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) 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.

Replacing Julie Andrews, who won the Academy Award in 1965 for the original Mary Poppins, is a tall order. To capture the same charm without entirely imitating her performance is an even taller ask. Fortunately, Disney and the filmmakers behind Mary Poppins Returns have gotten about as close as they can to perfection with Emily Blunt. The actress acutely balances imitation and interpretation, making the character her own for however briefly its hers. 

The supporting players do their best to help out with the daunting lead role that Blunt must fill. Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t replacing an icon in the same way, playing an apprentice of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert though serving the same narrative function. Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw are charming as could be as the grown-up Banks children from the original, even when life continually presents them with problems. A statement which could be applied to the film as a whole, charming as ever despite facing numerous problems. 

The sequel is fifty-four years in the making and watching it feels like stepping back in time, to a simpler, old-fashioned way of making films. The attempts to mimic the originals style and tone are the proper approach, even if its musical atmosphere can’t match the same level. The music is good, make no mistake about that, however it’s hard to imagine anyone walking out of the theater humming along to some of the tunes featured here. There are exceptions of course, as the music works best within the context of the bombastic sequences of choreography more than as a casual listen, and the score itself is as magical as anything Disney has done in recent memory.

On the whole, Mary Poppins Returns produces more magic and wonder than anything Disney has done in recent memory outside of the animation studios under their umbrella. The narrative is nothing remarkable, merely a tool for the musical numbers to pop up and charm audiences, both on and off screen. But the themes of the original still shine through to make this a somewhat worthy sequel.

Mary Poppins Returns will always pale in comparison to the first, that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who has seen the classic that is Mary Poppins. Blunt steps into the difficult role of Poppins and does her absolute best, enough to likely earn her an Oscar nomination just as the first did for Andrews. Though it’s far from perfect in every way, the sequel captures enough magic and charm to keep the entire family satisfied and thoroughly entertained for the two-hour runtime. 

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