Mary Poppins Returns has a lot to live up to in the shadow of the 1964 classic, and honestly its gonna need some time until it can be told if it’s a success.
This winter’s musical to bring in the masses in a year without a Star Wars, Mary Poppins Returns is just as comparable to last year’s The Greatest Showman as it is the Disney original, but definitely a different level of effective.
This film banks (the pardon the pun) on the nostalgia and classic filmmaking of Mary Poppins for effect. Where we’re given the endearing and inaccurate London of the Julie Andrews film once again, full of whimsy and imagination. A lot of the beats are similar and we’re given our fare share of references, but none of them are groan-inducing. In fact, it’s more sweet and delightful hearing music cues or seeing classic Mary Poppins magic once again.
Rob Marshall does well to not oversaturate Mary Poppins Returns with modern special effects. They are certainly used here, but there’s a feeling of imperfection and of the first film in its practicality. Sequences are imaginative and capture your memories of Mary Poppins, with only a bit of a modern wipe on it.
Make no mistake, Mary Poppins Returns is still bigger and better thanks to budgets and advancements, but it feels good to watch live action and animation come together again without in your face computer animation.
Marshall is no stranger to putting musicals to film, but much like his track record, it’s a bit mixed here. For every beautiful sequence full of wonderful choreography there’s sequences of poor musical cinematography and editing that lacks that punch. Mary Poppins Returns has its highlights, but there are sequences that could easily be excised and some parts that could have done with a reshoot and a recut.
Mary Poppins Returns is an ambitious love letter, and it’s also cursed by its aspirations. It’s tough when you try and match a perfect musical soundtrack by some of the greats. Not a slant on the talented Marc Shaiman at all, just highlighting the daunting task of even remotely matching something like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
What it undoubtedly gets right is it’s cast. It’s tough to call what’s the smarter call: Lin-Manuel Miranda as the Jack the lamplighter or Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins. Blunt shines in this, channeling her best into it to recreate the iconic nanny with great respect to the legacy. She’s not practically perfect in every way, but she’s exactly what you need here. Same for Miranda, it’s great whenever you see someone enjoying every second of their job, and Miranda’s on top of the moon from his very introduction.
Other casting choices go from great to so odd and potentially problematic. Colin Firth is the perfect villain you need, Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer rock being the grown up Banks children, but goddamn, why the hell is Meryl Streep in this movie, I still don’t know.
Mary Poppins Returns is the love letter you didn’t know someone wanted to make for Mary Poppins. It’s familiar and it’s safe and it tries to be a good modern sequel/pastiche. It’s fun and it’s optimistic and it’s bright, which is definitely my shit. For all of its appreciation it suffers for never reaching the highs of Julie Andrews, and that says a lot coming from a returning nanny holding a kite flying over the smog of London.