Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.
Has there ever been a longer gap in cinematic history between an original film and its sequel as with ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, which arrives in cinemas a mere 54 years after the Disney classic. On the evidence of this film, they’d have been best not bothering. I thought ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ was a terrible film with a largely poor collection of songs and a dull storyline that tries to hue so close to the original that it fails to have anything new to say for itself. Unlike ‘Mary Poppins’, which is remembered fondly all these years later, this is a major disappointment and I frankly couldn’t wait for it to end.
The story takes place in 1930s London and centres on the now grown up Banks children (Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer), who see the return of Mary Poppins to help them cope with a family tragedy and prevent them from losing their house to the bank. Emily Blunt plays Mary Poppins and she is terrific in taking on a difficult, iconic role, but it’s a shame the rest of the film is a letdown. The songs aren’t just forgettable, but by and large downright awful, which is hugely disappointing given how memorable the music is from the original film. The staging and production design are good but it barely matters when the actual songs are so poor (‘Trip a little light fantastic’ is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard in a musical), and there’s nothing with the staying power to really get into your head like the songs from good musicals do.
The script is poorly written, entirely derivative of the original but with less focus on writing interesting characters with believable motivations. This is particularly epitomised through the de facto villain of the piece (yep you’ve guessed it, a bank manager), who is played by Colin Firth, who at least looks like he’s having a ball as a moustache twirling villain. His character is thinly written with limited explanation as to why he has a grudge against the Banks family (other than the obvious reason in that the film needs a villain and the writers couldn’t be bothered writing one properly) and the solution the script arrives at to conclude the story is about as ridiculous as the spaceship in ‘Monty Python and the Life of Brian’ (which for those who haven’t seen that classic, it’s a scene lampooning the use of deus ex machina to solve problems in other media).
‘Mary Poppins Returns’ isn’t without some charms, largely down to Blunt’s performance and I did like the bowl sequence (which incidentally contains the one memorable song in the film – “A Cover is not a Book”) but for the most part this is a forgettable piece of work. It looks good and it’s clearly had a lot of money spent on the production, but it fails in both being a good musical and in successfully capturing the essence of the original, a real crime given how afraid the filmmakers are to take any risks beyond essentially retelling that story.
Directed By: Rob Marshall
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Jim Norton and Jeremy Swift