Continuing the journey of the magical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt). Mary Poppins Returns focuses on taking care of its most pivotal housekeeping duties; mirroring the originals charm, remaining faithful to its spirit, and honouring its past characters.
One could say Mary Poppins Returns is faithful to a fault. The original Mary Poppins (1964) film was praised for its multifaceted layers and heartwarming messages. With Mary Poppins Returns you are instead met with the message of “making the impossible, possible”, a phrase repeated throughout to instill a sense of hope and wonder in the Bank’s children. Surprisingly, there’s not quite this degree of narrative heft, as the film is more focused on reproducing the scale of its sets and dances than diving into the timely symbol that Mary Poppins represents.
This film is almost purely musical in nature, containing approximately 14 musical sequences, with some lasting upwards of 7 minutes + in length. The rate at which audiences are given musical numbers throughout this film can become quite overbearing; with the intermissions between them being far too brief. When it wasn’t a full-blown musical extravaganza, it was spending time to set up the next. While many may think this is a consequence of modern audiences having a “lower attention span”, the fault lies in the films lack of foresight. This isn’t the 1960’s; stage theatrics were often an essential component of entertainment in the 60’s, particularly in kids films, as they had limited options in visual effects and other areas to draw the crowds attention, so naturally large musical dances were employed; more than anything it was done out of necessity. This is no longer the case, ideally a hybrid mixture should have been employed here so as to balance out this extraneously decadent dive into musical numbers.
It felt like more care was taken in producing a mirror image of the first film than re-imagining or rearranging the story for modern audiences. The film’s basic premise is evidence of that; as the entire story hinges on the plot point that the father (Ben Winshaw) will not be able to find a document that will save his house, a document he’s misplaced in a drawer or box. But that does not detract from the quality performances throughout, as these actors perform many musical sequences that are genuinely fun to witness, even if they get a little tiresome.
Mary Poppins herself is this film’s driving force, without her there is little to cling onto. Emily Blunt embodies Poppins right down to her most minute detail. Every time Blunt appears on screen she captures a sense of beauty and elegance, providing both a warming and tantalizing presence. So much so that every time she did not appear on-screen something felt missing. Blunt soars beyond the clouds, her singing is impeccable, and her performance stands as one of the best of this year. Lin-Manuel is a major character throughout, and while he is fine in his physical performance, he held no relevance or gravity within the story, other than standing as a Dick Van Dyke replacement. I often found he became invasive within the story rather than bolstering its messages. Manuel’s role contained more than 15 minutes of constant singing, almost as much as Poppins herself; this degree of screen-time became one of the film’s largest faults, as this precious time is wasted on a character that essentially exists as a symbolic gesture to the original and not to enrich the story. Fleshing out Poppins as a character or creating a more put-together narrative should have been this film’s focus. Despite not getting exactly what I wanted, I can’t deny that this felt like a deeply faithful sequel.
This film is a splendor to witness, with large scale sets often merged with an animated world, there are some great eye-candy moments throughout. Though at times they attempt to imitate the blue-screen effect of characters floating around, it results in being another needlessly faithful aspect that was not required. The costume design is vibrant and luxurious, alongside the extravagant hair-styling. All of these visual feats make the film a pleasurable viewing experience and play their part in making it magical.
The loyalty this film holds to the original film’s narrative consequently worked against it. Mary Poppins Returns hopes to ride a nostalgia wave that has long since passed, it may not be perfect, but it casts a strong enough spell to recapture the point of its message. Gliding down with gracefulness, paying tribute to the original film, and all strengthened by Emily Blunt’s stunning recreation of the character — Mary Poppins Returns is simply splendid when it isn’t spending all its time in the clouds.