Prior to watching Mary Poppins Returns, we are fully aware that what made the original 1964 movie so great was Julie Andrews, herself, as the title character. She brings so much charm. Even the trusting twinkle in her eye lets us know we’re in good hands.
I also know that everything negative (or positive) about the new movie will be somewhat unfairly attributed to Emily Blunt–who plays the new Mary Poppins. And I, too, fell into this trap at first.
Though it’s partially true. Blunt just isn’t as magnetic or charismatic as Andrews. That’s not her fault. Not a lot of people can be. But we can’t help think the entire time that this film would be so much better with Julie Andrews.
Simply put, Julie Andrews IS Mary Poppins. It’s safe to say that the kid who played Han Solo in the new Star Wars prequel does a better job emulating Harrison Ford than Blunt does Andrews.
We see this right away with Blunt’s first musical number–an underwater bath scene–which is a good concept, but doesn’t quite matter when the execution is so slow and boring–similar to starting a concert with a ballad. You just shouldn’t do it. The song is underwhelming and we already have a bad taste in our mouths for this new Poppins.
Sadly, the issues don’t all lie within that one song. Most of them are not immediately catchy–albeit lyrically great. Marc Shaiman composes the music for this movie, and doesn’t necessarily hit the nail on the head–almost ever. He tries to parallel the Sherman Brothers’ songs from the original too much. Though he doesn’t miss the mark in that regard, he also doesn’t match them at any point either. So all this does is show us how the music is not as good either.
The problem you’ll run into with trying to match something while attempting to be different is that it’s impossible–especially a 50-year-old classic. Even during the seldom moments when the songs aren’t trying to necessarily pastiche the originals, there is still this phantom calliope from a long lost carousel that the filmmakers have undoubtedly added to subliminally convince us that these new songs are on par with the ones from the 1964.
However, the opening number, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky,” is a highlight. Sung by Lin Manuel Miranda, who doesn’t compose the music for this film (regrettably so), but is cast perfectly as Jack, an apprentice of Bert (Dick Van Dyke) from the original. There are two, maybe three, musical gems throughout this movie. We just wanted them all to be great.
The story follows Michael (Ben Whishaw), the grown up version of the boy in the first film, as he struggles to make ends meet as a widower with three children. The bank is threatening to take his house, which has been in his family his entire life and then some. He says he has shares in the bank, but can’t find the certificate that states this. So Mary appears out of the clouds and tries to help her old friend.
Blunt isn’t necessarily bad, she’s just more stern and pompous that Andrews’ version of Poppins. Which leads us to believe that this isn’t necessarily just a sequel to the original movie, but also a closer adaptation to P.L. Travers’ original book. But Disney also marketed this movie as a sequel to their own 1964 version, so it’s all very confusing as it tries to be both.
Disney’s Mary Poppins, as shown in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, was truly a case of a project put together through perfect circumstance and fate. Mary Poppins Returns, however, feels a lot more contrived than that. A cash grab, perhaps?
This film even utilizes some of the same narrative themes as the original–which were fresh back in 1964, but simply don’t hold as much weight in today’s society. For instance, being “topsy turvy” or thinking outside the box–these are things we don’t really struggle with opening ourselves up to anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I really did like this movie at times. I had an enjoyable 130 minutes. The story is filled with some truly poignant moments. But over the course of the movie I was going back and forth a lot. One moment I would be bothered because I could tell the filmmakers were simply trying too hard, then the next ten minutes I was being undistractedly entertained. There are a great couple of scenes that take place on the artwork of a large porcelain bowl featuring a live-action/cartoon medley. The animation is hand-drawn, and there’s a well-choreographed musical number featuring the aforementioned Miranda.
Mary Poppins Returns is actually a good movie, but I can’t help but feel like it’s merely a sum of its parts. Much like the original, the story lacks a cohesiveness. But whereas its predecessor throws a bunch of randomly chosen scenes together with an overarching purpose or wisdom, this on just seems like it doesn’t quite get how to formulate the narrative the same way. However, as the movie rolled on, I eventually came to realize that the bad stuff wasn’t all Emily Blunt’s fault.