For anyone who loves the original Mary Poppins, from Walt Disney in 1964, the new rendition, Mary Poppins Returns, may bring both joy and frustration. Yes, the sequel is beautifully produced, and any chance to revisit Poppins is welcome. But the new film is so determined to honor its predecessor that it becomes lost in good intentions. It’s as if director Rob Marshall was so concerned that he might disappoint Poppins people that he made a film that borrows from the original, sequence by sequence, song by song, moment by moment. All it doesn’t seem to lift is a spoonful of sugar.
Perhaps, on paper, the idea sounded foolproof: update the timeless story for a new generation in the same way Disney recently updated Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book. But finding new ways to use computers to create visual magic does not a movie make. And the new Poppins suffers the same fate as those other redos, a movie that looks right but feels empty. Few moments in the new Poppins inspire even as the movie diligently works to entertain.
Picture the possible creative discussion. Marshall, and the other moviemakers, watch the original one day and say to themselves, well, we need to replicate Uncle Albert laughing on the ceiling, so let’s ask Meryl Streep to turn the room around. And we can’t jump through pavement sketches one more time so let’s jump, instead, into a broken bowl. And if watching chimney sweeps step in time has been done let’s put lamplighters on anachronistic bicycles. And rather than fly a kite how about, instead, we fly balloons. The film feels that calculated.
What’s missing is heart. As charming as Emily Blunt may be, she performs her musical numbers without building the character or developing a relationship with the children she returns to care for. We get no sense of the difference she can make to these people, and experience little of the remorse when it is time for her to move on. The script doesn’t give Blunt many opportunities to layer a portrayal. But she tries. And watching this marvelous actress work so hard reminds us how easy Julie Andrews made it all look in the original. No wonder she won that Oscar. She was more than practically perfect.
But this movie is not the original. As much as it tries to be. And, perhaps, the biggest disappointment is the music. My generation, after seeing the original in its first run, would beg to stop to feed the birds and couldn’t wait to fly a kite. Those songs defined a moment when the stability Poppins created could help any household or nation withstand turbulence. And a lot of this calm came through the songs. But none of the songs in the new film are memorable and few musical numbers ring true. They are simple performances.
Of course, with any sequel, comparing the new film with the original can be unfair. But a sequel that so constantly celebrates its roots begs such an assessment. And if the original Mary Poppins was a fresh cinema concoction, the new Mary Poppins Returns feels a bit like being served leftovers. What could have been a jolly holiday is, sadly, a bit of a letdown. Indubitably.
Film Nutritional Value: Mary Poppins Returns
Content: Medium. The return visit to Cherry Tree Lane is so filled with predictable moments there are few real sequences of wonder and delight.
Entertainment: High. No matter how the film compares to the original, it does delight, at moments, thanks to the beauty of its production and the spirit of Emily Blunt.
Message: Medium. As meaningful as the original was, the message in the sequel gets a bit lost as the film tries too hard to recreate the magic.
Relevance: High. Any chance to share a family film is wonderful.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. While the movie is a bit of a letdown, as most sequels can be, you’ll find lots to chat about as a family.
Mary Poppins Returns runs 2 hours, 10 minutes, and is rated PG for “mild thematic elements and brief action.” 4 Popcorn Buckets.
Mary Poppins: Savor the original
Families are as fragile as the most delicate of porcelain that may sit in the loveliest of living rooms.
And no matter how lovely that place to sit may be, and how much the people who inhabit the house may love each other, without commitment and nurturing a family may find itself less connected than what anyone hopes to be. And, without connection, the family will never experience the magic.
But it’s not easy to be a parent, especially today when there are so many pressures to make ends meet. All the obligations that parents try to manage can take away from family time. And parents may forget — in a world filled with such sophisticated ways to entertain ourselves — that something as simple as taking a few minutes to fly a kite can create just the kind of magic that can make a difference to children.
In the original Mary Poppins, the Banks children, in London in the early 1900s, have very busy parents. Their father is an executive at a bank who works long hours and wants to relax when he gets home. He doesn’t seem to have much time to spend with them nor the patience to spend with their playful pursuits. Their mother is deeply involved in volunteer work — to help women get the vote — as well as supervising a full household staff. So these children who wish their parents could spend more time with them are left to the supervision of nannies. And, somehow, the children — and the kite they want to fly — get lost in the domestic shuffle.
Leave it to a most magical nanny to help everyone in the house notice the magic they create for themselves when they take the time to spend with each other. Mary Poppins takes you into the hearts of these two children who simply want to be noticed. She brings, of course, her collection of fun games and adventures, all of which we get to enjoy in their Disney splendor. And, when she arrives in the nick of time, this magical nanny helps everyone in the family learn some important lessons about investing in each other. The prim and proper Poppins seems to make everything a game, every moment a bit of fun, and every lesson easy to take (with, of course, a spoonful of sugar). And who else could host tea parties on a ceiling or win a racehorse in a chalk pavement picture?
The world Poppins creates is beautifully brought to life by the Disney studios in, perhaps, their greatest film achievement. Walt Disney himself brings a personal commitment to the film, sparing no expense, and ensuring a standard of quality and clarity. And at the center of the film is Julie Andrews, in her Oscar-winning film debut, who simply radiates as Poppins. Today it’s marvelous to remember how exciting it was to first see this marvelous actress on the screen. She was a superstar from the first frame.
But there’s more than fun to Poppins; she is, as well, a wise woman who quickly understands what every family needs, including the Banks. She makes sure she gets everything done “spit spot” to bring her family closer together, and brings much needed change to a British household that takes itself a bit too seriously.
The original Mary Poppins runs 2 hours, 19 minutes, and is rated G.