Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw
Director: Rob Marshall
Running Time: 130 mins
Mary Poppins Returns is an American film and the sequel to Mary Poppins. Years after her last visit, magical nanny Mary Poppins returns to the Banks household to look after the children, and help a now adult Michael and Jane through a difficult period in their lives.
Disney have been on a brilliant roll with their various live-action adaptations of animated classics, as well as retellings of beloved films from the past, but I’m afraid to say that that trend comes to a shuddering halt with Mary Poppins Returns, a messy, non-sensical, overlong and painfully boring film that not only fails to live up to its predecessor in every way, but also marks Disney’s biggest dud in years.
Now, I’ll admit that the original Mary Poppins has never been an all-time favourite of mine. It’s a nice movie, and Julie Andrews’ performance is absolutely delightful, but compared with other big studio musicals of the time (The Sound Of Music, My Fair Lady, Oliver! etc.), it has never stood out in my mind as a real great of the genre or period.
As a result, I don’t have the immense nostalgia and fervour for Mary Poppins, and unfortunately I think a lot of what Mary Poppins Returns banks on is you having a beautiful memory of the original. For younger viewers, this film is perfectly fine, and is bright and cheery enough to provide an entertaining watch throughout, but there’s just so little else to it, and as such it’s a rather painful watch for those looking for something more than a simple nostalgia trip.
First off, I appreciate and admire what Disney are doing here with a recreation of the traditional style of filmmaking. Whether that be the delightful opening credits that hark back to the 1960s, or the film’s endlessly innocent atmosphere, it’s clear that Disney want to make this as traditional a film as can be, but it unfortunately doesn’t quite work out as planned.
While recent modern retellings like Cinderella and Beauty And The Beast have used the traditional fairytale style to their advantage, crafting an unparalelled elegance and majesty, Mary Poppins Returns is a film that’s far too messy and dull to be able to capitalise on that innocent and elegant vibe created through that traditional style.
Above all, the story is meandering and lacks focus for a good two-thirds of the film’s duration. Starting off with a tedious first 15 minutes, the film then proceeds to split the story between the adventures of the young children off in fantasy land with Mary Poppins, while we see Michael and Jane Banks scurry around London desperately trying to save their house from being repossessed, with no apparent link between the two at all.
Therefore, the shift between bureaucratic conversations in the Bank of England to the cartoon world filled with joy and fun is far too jarring to come off effectively, and with the added frustration that a lot of Mary Poppins and the kids’ exploits are both garish and totally non-sensical, the film rapidly descends into a painfully messy affair, often leaving me at a complete loss as to what on earth is going on on screen.
The exception to that is fortunately the film’s final act, where things calm down to a significant degree, and we get a far more polished and focused approach to the story, with the children and the adults working together for a common goal. Add in a couple of bright and enjoyable musical sequences, and you’ve got a genuinely enjoyable finale, but one that is way too little, way too late to save the film as a whole.
Speaking of musical sequences, one of my biggest frustrations with Mary Poppins Returns has to be the soundtrack. It’s good to see that the film tries its hand with an original soundtrack, to recapture the magic of the original but still feel just as fresh on its own, however it’s unfortunately plagued with mediocre musical numbers that are both dull and completely non-sensical.
In comparison to the clear, catchy tunes of the original, too many of the songs here are all over the place, far more concerned with whatever crazy choreography can be jammed into the back of shot than the actual meaning of the lyrics in relation to the development of the story. It’s the basic trait of what makes a good movie musical, but Mary Poppins Returns fails time and again to get the songs right in terms of musical entertainment and value in the story as a whole.
Moving on from the music to the visuals, because one of Disney’s almost infallible successes over the last few years has been their incredible attention to detail in costume and production design, creating some of the most immersive and beautiful fairytale worlds ever shown on the big screen on numerous occasions, whether it be the wild landscapes of The Jungle Book or the colourful castles of The Nutcracker And The Four Realms.
This is also a very good-looking film, and although it doesn’t quite have the dazzling intricacies of some of the fairtyale sets that we’ve seen in other Disney works, Mary Poppins Returns is at its best when it’s at its brightest, particularly in the delightful final sequence that provides pretty much everything the movie should have been previously.
The only part of the movie that really doesn’t work visually is the animated sequence. Much like the original movie, Mary Poppins and the children journey into an animated world, but unlike that film, which used it as a quick, quirky aside to the main story, the adventure into the animated world is dragged on for far too long, and the interaction between the human and animated characters is far too jarring for the good of the story at the early point it occurs. It is nice to see traditional Disney animation on the big screen again, but it’s unfortunately another element of this film that falls painfully flat.
Finally, a word on the performances, and particularly that of Emily Blunt in the lead role. Living up to Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins isn’t an easy job by any means, and Blunt unfortunately pales in comparison. While she’s without a doubt this film’s brightest spark, bringing about some of the only real charisma and energy on display, her portrayal of Poppins just doesn’t have that warm cosiness that Andrews portrayed in 1964, and followed up with her role as Maria in The Sound Of Music.
Instead, she comes across as a little too stern, and although her role as a nanny teaching the children valuable lessons is clear, she doesn’t quite have that immense likability in her performance to give this film the spark it needs to prove genuinely endearing.
Alongside Blunt are a host of A-listers, most of whom aren’t really able to show their talents due to the film’s terrible screenplay and painfully messy directing. Colin Firth and Julie Walters are just sort of there, offering very little extra charisma with their supporting roles, while Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer unfortunately don’t do enough to endear you to their characters as you did the children of the first film, meaning that all of the film’s callbacks to the original feel a little too tenuous, adding to the disappointment of this sequel in relation to its predecessor.
Overall, then, I was enormously disappointed with Mary Poppins Returns. While it’s another demonstration of Disney’s immense willingness to continue telling stories in its traditional style, it’s the first in a long time where that falls completely flat. Rather than being the delightful family extravaganza it aims to be, this is a film that proves both boring and painfully annoying to watch, such is the mess created by Rob Marshall’s desperately poor directing throughout, as well as the infuriatingly hectic screenplay, the misjudged animated visuals, and generally underwhelming musical numbers. It’s a real shame given the legendary status of the original, but Mary Poppins Returns is one of Disney’s biggest misfires in a very long time, and that’s why I’m giving it a 4.4.