Blimey! Hold on to your top hats and petticoats, ladies and gents. Behold the Disney Studios magic that is Mary Poppins Returns! Equal parts movie, musical, and theatre, with a spoonful of animation thrown in, this family film is just the ‘medicine’ to cure holiday blues, put a spring in your step, and a spot of British into your accent.
The story begins as we meet the Banks family: George Banks (Ben Whishaw), his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), and his three children who never quite earn their own identities: Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson).
With the maternal parent inexplicably but recently absent, the day-to-day routine of the household has fallen into disrepair. The plumbing is shot, there are no groceries in the house, the kids are filthy and running amuck, and to top it all off – the house is about to be foreclosed upon by the bank. The family’s sole chance to keep the house and avoid financial ruin rests upon their ability to produce obscure, decades-old documentation proving they own shares in the bank.
Just as things become most bleak and dire, Mary Poppins descends from the heavens to save the day and the Banks family.
From that point, the real cinematic adventure begins. Mary Poppins and the Banks children embark on gleefully fantastic and musical journeys in and out of animation — often accompanied by the affable lamplighter Jack, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda is best known for winning the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for writing the book, music, and lyrics for the Broadway hit Hamilton.
Jack, Mary Poppins Returns’ take on Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep character from the 1964 film, is one of many nods to the original version, but Returns feels more like an adaptation than a sequel. The score is entirely original, so viewers hoping for a familiar ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ sing-a-long will be left wanting. Likewise, more than a handful of reviewers have admonished Blunt’s performance as incomparable to Julie Andrews (I disagree), and the movie as lacking in general. Among them:
“Charmless” – Manohla Dargis, New York Times
“Falls quite short of being practically perfect in every way” Monica Castillo, rogerebert.com
‘Hard Medicine to Swallow” Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal
“Mary Poppins Returns, and she really shouldn’t have” Justin Chang, LA Times
Admittedly, I also found the film to have some shortcomings. With a running time of two hours and twelve minutes, the movie felt long. At precisely the 1:48 mark, children began squirming in their seats and the flicker of LED lights lit up the theatre like a twinkling Christmas tree as people started checking their smartphones.
The lack of social consciousness was also a little disappointing. The women were all cast as secretaries and caregivers, the lawyers and bankers were men. The few actors of color were arguably ‘token.’ Even Mary Poppins, the strong female lead, was endlessly preoccupied with her appearance and dutifully deferential to all the men in the film. It could be argued that the casting was an effort to reflect the 1930s’ era in which the movie was set, but this is a film where a bathtub turns into an animated ocean, so authenticity is a weak excuse for not being a little more socially responsive to the modern-day audience. However, what the film lacked in political correctness, it made up for in well-placed cameo appearances. Meryl Streep is always a welcome treat onscreen, and *spoiler alert* when Dick Van Dyke, now 93, made a guest appearance – an audible gasp of collective delight could be heard throughout the theatre.
All in all, I thought the movie was pretty good. My fellow Friday-afternoon-movie-goers seemed to agree as evidenced by the applause that met the credits at the end of the film. And the toughest critic of all — my 6-year-old co-reviewer – happily shared her summary as follows:
“It was AWESOME. I didn’t like the singing part, but I would still give it 100 stars.”
Mary Poppins Returns (PG) is now playing at Village Theatre, Coronado and at theatres nationwide.
Movie times: click here
Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Musical
Rated: PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action
Run time: 130 minutes