Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for “Mary Poppins Returns.”
There’s no question whether or not Emily Blunt can fill the very large shoes of Julie Andrews as the flying nanny Mary Poppins.
Blunt and the many varied cameos are excellent in an otherwise fine “Mary Poppins” sequel. But the Mouse House’s fifth sequel of the year proves that maybe you don’t need a followup to every Disney movie ever made.
What to know: It’s from the capable Rob Marshall who has brought other successful musicals to screen and has the talents of Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Director Rob Marshall brought Oscar-winning “Chicago” to screen and was also responsible for Disney’s 2014 hit “Into the Woods,” also starring Blunt.
The sequel itself comes 54 years after the original. This time around it follows the return of Mary Poppins as she helps the Banks children overcome the loss of their mother.
Disney never released the rest of the actual plot and they were probably wise to do so. It’s awfully silly. After the death of his wife, Michael Banks (Ben Wishaw) forgot to pay some bills. As a result, the bank, which his father used to work at, is threatening to repossess his home if he can’t repay a loan in full. It shouldn’t be a problem. His father has shares in the bank. So what’s the complication? He also misplaced the very important paperwork noting just that.
Blunt and Meryl Streep reunite in a Disney musical for the first time since “Into the Woods.” The two are delightful to watch on screen, even if it’s in a tune that easily could have wound up on the cutting room floor. If you’re a Broadway fan, you’ll probably want to see Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda in a large role.
What’s hot: Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, and a handful of other cameos
It’s clear why John Krasinki cried when he watched his wife, Emily Blunt, in “Mary Poppins Returns.” She’s phenomenal as the no-nonsense nanny.
Blunt is Mary Poppins as much as original star Julie Andrews. From the moment Blunt floats in from the sky on a balloon with her talking umbrella, she commands your attention every moment on screen. It’s not just her singing voice which will captivate audiences, but it’s her mannerisms and the way she holds herself which will delight.
Other than Blunt, three big cameos, each almost larger than the next, steal the sequel and make it worth a watch. The audience at my screening actually clapped when a big surprise cameo came on screen near the end.
“Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda has one highlight of the film where he gets to show off his incomparable talent to rhyme and rap without seeming to take a breath. But other than that? He’s just fine. Exiting my screening, people noted that his English accent seemed a bit off.
Fans of the original will also appreciate gorgeous artwork from original “Mary Poppins” artist and Disney Legend Peter Ellenshaw at the film’s opening.
What’s not: A very long film, forgettable songs, a silly plot, and a forced unnecessary romance
While Blunt is excellent in the film, she alone can not hold up the entire film. The rest of it falls apart a bit without her.
None of the songs in the new movie hold a candle to the original classics (although it did just get nominated for best original score by the Golden Globes). After seeing “Mary Poppins Returns,” I couldn’t hum any of the film’s tunes nor tell you the song titles. They’re good. The lyrics just aren’t as memorable as songs from the original. No one’s ever going to sing any of these new songs before recalling “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and “Chim Chim Cheree” from the original classic.
Most interesting is that while Miranda performs a good deal of the songs in the musical, he’s not credited for writing any songs in the film. It may have been an oversight not to utilise his talent as a skilled songwriter here, especially when he recently wrote Oscar-nominated music for “Moana.”
Other than Blunt, this movie wouldn’t be as enjoyable without three big-name cameos. And when you take them out, is the movie worth as much of a watch? Blunt is great, but it feels like Disney knew it had an OK movie and the only way to prop it up and make it a must-see was by inserting cameos from big names, including Streep and Angela Lansbury, throughout.
That said, the movie is too long at two-hours-and-11-minutes. This could be a 90 minute movie. Streep’s entire character was unnecessary other than for some added star power. When the movie could have ended, it goes on for another unnecessary – but wonderful – cameo and extra song.
Also unnecessary is a contrived, forced romantic relationship between Jane Banks and lamplighter Jack (Miranda), who just so happens to be one of the very same characters all grown up from the original movie. It just seems a bit strange that Poppins thinks the best Jane Banks can do is a lamplighter.
The film’s largest question goes unanswered and it’s one that will stay on your mind the entire film: How did Banks’ wife die?
It’s an awfully convenient plot device, and one used in many Disney movies (“Bambi,” “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” etc.). Here, it just doesn’t seem earned. The Banks kids don’t seem disturbed or upset one year out from their mother’s death. Instead, they’re all pretty jolly kids, who have just learned to grow up faster than they should have.
The only one who’s really distraught by her absence is Michael Banks (Wishaw). And his character is completely hypocritical. Despite claiming to be over being a child, Michael Banks is neither financially responsible or organised in this sequel. In every other respect, he’s still a child himself masquerading as an adult.
But maybe you shouldn’t overthink it. The film is lighthearted and extremely whimsical. If that’s all you want without looking at all of the cracks then you’ll probably enjoy the ride.
Overall: If you’re looking for some nostalgia, you’ll find it here, but don’t expect something better than the original
There’s a line in the movie where Jack says, “One thing you should know about Mary Poppins: She never explains anything.” That may be a metaphor for the movie at large because it’s very over-the-top without a lot of explanation. As long as you’re OK being left without answers to every question you have, you should enjoy the ride.
Blunt’s voice is delightful. She is the pure essence of Poppins. But at the end of the day, this movie wasn’t necessary. No one asked for and no one needed a “Mary Poppins” sequel.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is in theatres Wednesday, December 19.
Watch a trailer below.
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