Mary Poppins Returns - Review
Mary Poppins Returns is the best it can be considering its status.
Remaking/resuscitating a film like Mary Poppins shouldn’t be attempted, ever again. It’s too risky, too fraught for comparison, and greatest of all, destined to live in the original’s shadow. Mary Poppins is the kind of property that should never be touched, but of course, we all know the reason (and company) for which it exists. Disney’s proof of concept masterpiece in the 1960s was a stroke of luck. The film was too wild, too outside the box to be a safe bet, but would we have any of the same whimsical affectations in our culture today without it? Mary Poppins Returns, the long-gestated sequel, is the absolute best it can be without being a mirror image of the original. The cast is wonderful and the songs are memorable, but there is no escaping the feeling that a film like this is, and will always be, unnecessary.
Now in his 30s, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is struggling to preserve the memory of his recently passed wife in the form of the family home, threatened to be repossessed by the bank. The mission of the film becomes to save the family home, and those that occupy it, in any way possible. The title character arrives soon after this conflict is introduced, as the film picks up into one of its many elaborate sequences. Bubble baths, cabarets, animated porcelain bowls, it can be whimsical and still turn on a dime to deliver a moral. Surprising as it is, Mary Poppins Returns stays true to the devices in which Mary delivers understanding. There is rarely a moment when something occurs that could not have been in the original, but the real wonder of this film is how it carves its own notch into the Disney cannon. While not a remake, it edges close enough to the original to be a spiritual one; but if there is a reason to see Mary Poppins Returns, it’s for Lin-Manuel Miranda and Emily Blunt.
They are the brightest spots, creating the purest moments of childlike joy and wonder, whether through Miranda’s corny delivery or Blunt’s stern yet soft Poppins. They don’t do impressions, thank goodness, but rather play extensions of the characters they are based on: Miranda’s Jack is a romantic, life-affirming leery who sings like there aren’t lampposts to light across London. His Hamilton-esque “A Cover is Not the Book” and breezy delivery in “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” affirm that the directors are not actively trying to remake Mary Poppins, but give ample room to the fantastically talented cast to invigorate a 50 year old franchise. Blunt’s “Can You Imagine That” is the Julie Andrews-echoing highlight, and her charisma in the film is never better displayed. She is effervescent, commanding each scene with just the right amount of whimsy and rigour to make kids and adults alike cower under their laughter. Miranda is excellent for what we know him for, but the real surprise is how well Blunt has matured as a singer since her role in Into The Woods.
The animated sequence in Mary Poppins Returns is one of the most joyful experiences the film has to offer. “A Cover is Not the Book” is the most visually dazzling musical experience since the opening of La La Land, the old-school animation only perfecting the mood. The few shrug-worthy scenes are at least bright, well acted, and relevant to the story. This isn’t a perfectly made musical, but it gets as close as it can while maintaining the integrity of its source material. Oh that, the source material. It’s impossible to watch Mary Poppins Returns without imagining what its goal is: to entertain, to succeed, to live up? Let me solve that for you right here: this film should be enjoyed as its own entity, entirely separate from the original. The songs are exciting but modern, the acting is engaging but not classic. If you’ve seen Mary Poppins, you’ve seen Mary Poppins Returns, but why deny yourself the chance to relive that experience in a film that was made for a modern audience?