After 54 years, Mary Poppins has returned to our screens. It’s weird when you put it like that, the original film came out before my parents were born, and here I am watching a new instalment.
Mary Poppins Returns is set around three decades after the first film and revisits the Banks children, who have fallen on hard times during the Great Depression, whilst Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) work together to try and solve their problems, along comes Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) to look after Michael’s three children; Annabel, John and Georgie. (Played by Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson, respectively.)
We may as well address the elephant in the room to begin with, and I’m pleased to say that Emily Blunt is perfectly cast as Mary Poppins. She captures the magic and the essence of Julie Andrews’ rendition of the character, but she never once feels like an imitation, and she manages to add her own quirks to Mary that will no doubt see her loved by a whole new generation. You can tell how much she enjoyed playing this part and her warm, fun personality is infectious, without a doubt, one of the strongest parts of this film is her performance, which was key, if audiences failed to connect with this new Mary Poppins then the rest of the film may have been a bust, thankfully, this isn’t the case. Although, I will make one observation, and that is it sometimes felt that Mary was taking too much of a backseat in this story and I was often surprised at certain moments when she is noticeably absent, it left me wanting to see more of her. (A testament to how good Blunt’s performance is.)
This film does (mostly) a fantastic job of feeling like a follow-on from the original, it’s very faithful to it’s predecessor and embodies the spirit of Mary Poppins, no easy task when the first film came out over half a century ago. However, there are sometimes parts that perhaps feel too much like a tribute and it did feel at times like Mary Poppins Returns was treading a fine line between being a sequel and soft remake. Luckily, a lot of these blatantly obvious nods to the original have just about enough originality to get away with it. As I’ve said in previous reviews, too much fan service can be a detriment to the overall quality of the film, but here, I didn’t feel like it was bringing the story down.
Much like the original, there are many sequences that are truly magical and encapsulate that Disney spirit that we all know and love. I won’t mention every single scene that does this, but I will say that there is a segment in the second act that utilises a mixture of live-action and hand-drawn 2D animation, just like the original, and it truly is spectacular. I’m so glad that they decided to not go down the easy route and go full CGI, because this technique just gave the entire film that extra bit of charm that you just don’t see anymore in modern movies, it really was a breath of fresh air and it also helps to bridge the 1964 and the 2018 film together.
However, this film definitely isn’t “perfect in every way” and there are two main factors that did bring it down for me. Firstly, the music. Now, it’s not bad by any stretch, but it’s forgettable. Whilst the first film has a multitude of rememberable songs that are still sung to this day, this film doesn’t give us that luxury. Sure, the songs were catchy, but apart from possibly one song, I really couldn’t tell you the lyrics or the tune or anything once I left the cinema. The first film is timeless in terms of its musical merit, and that is one of the main reasons why the 1964 original holds up so well. Despite what I imagine would be the filmmakers best efforts, I don’t think Mary Poppins Returns has delivered anything (musically) that will stand the test of time and that is a great shame.
My other gripe with this film is the runtime, it comes in at 130 minutes, which is actually shorter than its predecessor, but this one for some reason seems to drag a lot more, to the point that you could argue certain sections are quite boring. I think this film could have been streamlined without damaging the overall story. I’m wary that this film is primarily for children and I think many may get a bit restless watching this film, especially in the parts when there’s not a lot of “magic” occurring.
To conclude, Mary Poppins Returns is a solid sequel to the original film. At times it captures the essence and the magic of the 1964 original almost perfectly, and thanks to modern technology it has been beautifully shot and crafted and it will undoubtedly “wow” a lot of audiences. Emily Blunt is fantastic in the title role and the film has a star-studded cast that all deliver great performances, including the three children who I thought were really good. There’s also a cameo from Dick Van Dyke which won’t fail to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, the energy of that man considering he is in his 90s is astounding.
Although I don’t think this film (or the music) will be remembered as a cult classic like the original, there’s no doubt that this is a fun, family film that will be enjoyed by all ages. If you like the magic of Disney, look no further than Mary Poppins Returns, it might drag a bit, but I have no doubt many will leave the cinema with a smile on their face. It’s a great film for this festive season, and it’s definitely worth a watch.
I give Mary Poppins Returns a 7.5/10.