Disney’s recent trend of rehashing existing properties continues with Mary Poppins Returns, a much belated sequel that doesn’t diminish the legacy of its classic predecessor but does little to add to it.
Director Rob Marshall has the unenviable task of filling a 54-year gap between his new film and Mary Poppins, which was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and is widely considered Disney’s finest achievement in live-action filmmaking. The sequel strains hard at every turn to draw parallels to and recapture the magic of the original, but nearly everything about this retread feels forced and overly calculated.
Taking place 25 years after the events of the first film, we’re reintroduced to the Banks children, Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw), the latter of whom has fallen on hard times since the passing of his wife. After falling months behind with their house payments, Michael and his three children are at risk of having their home taken away from them unless they can produce valuable stock certificates left by Michael’s late father.
Sensing that the Banks family needs her help once again, the mystical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) descends from the sky to fill the young ones with joy and wonder amid their dire circumstances.
From an opening number that features Lin-Manuel Miranda sporting a Cockney accent not too dissimilar from Dick Van Dyke’s in the original, this film feels like it’s trying too hard in almost every aspect.
There are some numbers, like “A Cover Is Not A Book,” that do find their own spark of creativity, but many of these routines feel like they’re intentionally pulling too much from the past. Aside from its inclusion of BMX bike tricks, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is obviously meant to recreate the rooftop whimsy of “Step in Time” from the 1964 original, but it fails to recapture the spirit and imagination of that rousing number.
At a stout 130 minutes, Mary Poppins Returns outstays its welcome with sequences of song and dance that are intermittently charming and dazzling but feel like distractions from a story that’s quite paper-thin in the first place.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that half of this film’s plot revolves around repairing a china bowl. While I understand musicals don’t always have the most dense storylines when compared to dramas, there still needs to be enough at stake to get involved in what’s happening. There’s also a major lapse of logic that occurs in the film’s climax that involves Poppins’ neglect to utilize her magical powers at a critical moment.
Being a Disney production, the film is, of course, very competently made and there’s no shortage of talent on and off the screen. The costumes and set design are both first-rate, while the acting (at least from the adults) is strong all around. Blunt does a great job of embodying the classic character, building off of Julie Andrews’ performance while also adding grace notes of her own. Whishaw makes the most of his limited role and Mortimer does a fine job as well, even though her character is severely underwritten.
Mary Poppins Returns may enchant those with close ties to the original but as a whole, this belated sequel simply feels too little and too late.
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