Mary Poppins returns just in time for the holiday season, providing an encouraging sequel that is both lighthearted and whimsical – reminding us about the joys of what it’s like to be a child again.
This movie is charming. Upliftingly fresh, albeit far from revolutionary – but that’s okay. This isn’t trying to reboot the series. It is trying to win some Oscars though, especially given its release date.
It also takes a similar structural approach in the script to the original, reinventing a few familiar situations with some tidy new characters and campy, yet stylistic, callbacks.
For a movie that’s somewhat locked in its prim and proper demeanor, it’s also surprisingly flexible in execution – which I think partially has to do with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
His ability to modernize the stiffest of subject material for musicals is already well known, and his team of professional BMX bikers, errr… oh I’m sorry, ‘lamplighters’ also known as leeries, give us a hip alternative to the original’s working-class chimney sweeper. With subtle nods to civil liberties for the proletariat that I won’t get into because it’s mostly superficial in what’s mostly a fun family movie.
Though hands down, Emily Blunt does a fantastic job as the new Mary Poppins. She captures the character’s quintessential mannerisms, heartwarming and impossibly creative, yet with a wise and curt demeanor. Quick to the point, she’s blunt… Emily Blunt (Horrible pun, I don’t care. She’s great). Also, she carries on the methodology of her predecessor in that Mary knows not to fix the problems herself, but to guide her children in the right direction – and push the plot back on its course.
Mary Poppins is Supernanny. She knows just the right amount of motherly.
However, what works best about the film is how much of a tribute it is to the original, with elaborate musical sequences, stellar performances from its cast, and innovative animation and special effect techniques that like its predecessor, blends the real with the surreal.
There’s also a funny musical number featuring Meryl Streep as ‘Cousin Topsy’, and a lovable cameo from Dick Van Dyke – both character roles, callbacks to the original film in different ways.
The music in the story is catchy. “A Cover is Not The Book” was probably my favorite number. Some critics have been harsh saying that the music doesn’t live up to its predecessor – though I believe that’s an unjust comparison and a ridiculously high standard.
And while the script pulls off the beats, it was somewhat haphazard, as I wasn’t immediately sold on the movie. Some of the film drew heavily on melodramatic acting – which was darker in tone than I thought was appropriate, especially from the father, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw).
His performance was good but felt somewhat off-putting. Mainly because unlike Christopher Robin, which is also about a boy from England who’d forgotten about his past, this movie isn’t solely focused on adult nostalgia. So his journey felt often less-colorful than the rest for most of the movie.
And I know it’s because times have changed and the modernization of the story plays a factor. Yet something in me kept thinking… isn’t this Mary Poppins? Why the shift into darker tones with the yelling and the evil wolf bankers and was it completely necessary?
But when the film embraces the nostalgia to just the right amount, embracing themes of family and understanding what it’s like to be a joyful, imaginative kid again…
That’s where the film tends to shine.
So, if you want a safe movie that’s light and warm. Go with Mary Poppins returns.
Mary Poppins: Returns is in theatres Right Now