REVIEW: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Mary Poppins is one of Walt Disney’s best films ever made. In fact, it was practically perfect in every way! Not only was Disney so passionate about it that it took him 20 years to gain the rights (watch the film Saving Mr Banks if you’re interested in the details) but it was also a masterpiece of visual effects, both practical and animated. The potential for a sequel has always been there, with the multiple adventures you could explore and the many books there are. Finally, 54 years later, that finally happened.

However, since it’s been a long time since the first film was released, it’s naturally expected to have some audiences who haven’t seen the original. As a result, we have both a sequel and semi-remake. While there’s a different plot and progression regarding the characters Michael and Jane Banks, the story formula is almost identical to the original. In fact, the adventures, songs and news characters, while different enough, are clearly counterparts to what we’ve seen in the original film.

Set in 1935, 25 years after the original film, Michael is now a struggling widowed father to three children, with financial difficulties and about to lose the Banks family home. Aided by his sister Jane, they’re set to save their house but to no avail. Right on time, their magical childhood nanny Mary Poppins arrives to help out in their time of need.

Although Mary Poppins has not aged, she’s morphed from Julie Andrews to Emily Blunt. Andrews gave a truly iconic performance as Mary Poppins that made her irreplaceable in the role. However, Blunt would be the only actress to make that possible. Not only does she bear some resemblance to Andrews but she’s one of the best actresses working today. I’ve seen her in several types of films and she’s never been short of impressive.

Her performance here is excellent, respectful to Andrews while making Mary Poppins her own, just as strict but she plays it a lot more sharper and less calm, also adding more emphasis to her vanity. Yet she’s still likeable with her share of cheerful moments, especially when she smiles and doesn’t let anyone see.

She also has a strong presence, even in moments when she’s not talking. Her body language is so upright and she has very expressive eyes. She can own the scene just by there.

Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer are very convincing as adult versions of Michael and Jane. Their roles are similar to that of their parents in the original: Michael is the sad figure father who has the overall arc, and while a devoted father he let his grief and struggle get in the way.

Jane, taking over from her suffragette mother, is a social activist, though has remained single and childless. Other returning characters are Ellen the maid, now played by Julie Walters, Admiral Boom, played by David Warner and with an expanded role. Dick Van Dyke, who in heavy old man make-up played Mr Dawes Senior in the original, returns this time playing Mr Dawes Junior, looking exactly the same without needing the make-up. He’s incredibly memorable and still energetic for a 93 year old.

We also have new characters who are mostly here to replace ones from the original, like Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack in place of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert. Unfortunately neither the character nor Miranda’s performance is as energetic or memorable; for most part he feels like he’s just there.

Meryl Streep plays Mary Poppins’s eccentric cousin Topsy, and her character is equivalent to Ed Wynn’s laughter addict Uncle Albert, equally as fun and over the top. Angela Lansbury also makes a fun and memorable appearance as a balloon lady.

The child actors are very well cast but unfortunately their characters are not that interesting. They just feel like generically good kids. The youngest son Georgie more memorable as he is the most mischievous but the older two, John and Annabel, you could just blend into one character.

This film is very beautiful to look at, the sets from the original are brilliantly recreated, and the hair and costumes all wonderfully represent the 1930s.

While there’s plenty of CGI in places, a lot of the effects are practical, which is really appreciated. The animated sequence is stunning, and it’s great to see it in 2D as I feel there’s not enough 2D animation in this day and age.

The songs are nowhere near as memorable unfortunately. While the songs here are fine, they won’t be classics or become part of popular culture. They are still enjoyable though. Mary Poppins’s first song ‘Can You Imagine That?’ is creative, Michael’s ‘A Conversation’ is emotional, Meryl Streep’s ‘Turning Turtle’ is outrageous and fun, and the finale ‘Nowhere To Go But Up’ with Angela Lansbury is heart-warming. My favourite song is the most bizarre and kind of risky ‘A Cover Is Not The Book’, as it’s got a great message with subtle adult humour.

There are some major flaws in this film, especially involving a huge plot point about finding a missing document. There’s also a villain in this film, Colin Firth’s bank manager, who is so generic with a moustache to twirl. Both of these results in a pretty ridiculous climax and a forced resolution. In contrast, the climax of the original was way more effective.

While I don’t see this becoming a classic like the original, it’s a worthy and respectful sequel with an awesome performance by Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins Returns offers fun new adventures and songs, progression of the Banks children, and several fun nods to the original movie with a strong feeling of nostalgia.

Written by Jack Parish

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