I have to admit, the hype got to me with Mary Poppins Returns. Hearing Emily Blunt talk about how she couldn’t try to be Julie Andrews but instead had to just do her own version of Mary Poppins piqued my interest. It’s not like there were really any competing movies out this week. Another Transformers movie and another superhero movie? Pass. Truth be told, the original 1964 Mary Poppins filled my little gay heart with joy. How could I resist having a look? Could they make a successful sequel? Maybe, but I had my doubts before the film even began when some of the actors came out and thanked us for coming to their film. That never bodes well.
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.
Talk about swinging for the fences. The original Mary Poppins is one of Disney’s most successful films of all time. That’s not just me saying it – Wikipedia says it’s considered to be a ‘crowning achievement’ so it must be true. You could tell a lot of work went into every detail in this film and it was mostly successful. Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins is every bit as good as Julie Andrews. And Lin-Manual Miranda’s new Bert (aka Jack) was very nearly perfect as well. In fact the casting and acting was all top notch. I loved Ben Whishaw and felt so much for his character. Emily Mortimer looks and talks exactly what I would have expected a grown up Jane Banks to look and sound like, so much so that it was obvious before they even introduced her.
Another thing they got right was the tone. Mary Poppins Returns really felt like you were revisiting the same universe. Sure it was a little more modern, the issues a little more complicated, things were a little more grown-up but every aspect was absolutely right. The songs felt like they could have passed in 1964 but also were clever and had something to say for today. And for those of us who haven’t read the novels these films were based on, it was good fun to explore the universe of Mary Poppins. I loved Cousin Topsy and her shop. I loved Colin Firth and his bank.
I wanted to unreservedly love Mary Poppins Returns. I wanted to so bad. But after a couple hours, I was squirming in my seat, experiencing what I could only describe as: Torture by Musical Number. I want to say 2 hours and 10 minutes was too long, but the original was nearly exactly as long. I think the problem was that the pacing was a mess. Strange that they would give the film a villain but not actually follow any act structure. Things just went on and on and on. Part of that was that the filmmakers had such big shoes to fill. The scenes in the original were absolutely memorable, as was every single song. I only loved a couple songs in this sequel (especially A Cover Is Not The Book, which was genius) but after a while, the songs started to sound the same. Plus it really felt, at times, that they were too closely trying to mirror the original film. Where this sequel stood out was when it broke new(ish) ground and tried something new.
So is Mary Poppins Returns worth seeing? Yes, especially if you loved (LOVED) the first one. It’s good for kids and skillfully made. I don’t know that I’ll see it again, though I might YouTube some of my favorite scenes. Visually it was amazing, just lovely. And I’m going to have to see the original again – was there always that much subtext in these stories? Because holy cow, there was a lot. And why is Mary Poppins also so familiar with handsome laborers?