Mary Poppins Returns (2018) Review
A MOSTLY “PRACTICAL
Winds in the east, mist coming in. Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ‘bout to begin. Can’t put me finger on what lies in store. But I feel what’s to happen all happened before”. Such is one of the first lines uttered in Disney’s 1964 live-action film Mary Poppins. Based on the children’s novels by English author P.L. Travers, the movie, which was directed by Robert Stevenson and starred actor Dick Van Dyke and actress Julie Andrews, tells the story of a magical nanny (named Marry Poppins) who visits a dysfunctional family (the Banks family) in London and employs her unique and whimsical brand of lifestyle to improve the family’s dynamics through a series of events. The film was met with critical acclaim, with many praising the feature for its narrative heart and imaginative nuances throughout the feature (the combination of live-action and animation) as well as the acting talents from Andrews and Dyke in the movie. Mary Poppins also received 13 Academy Awards nomination (setting a record for any other film released by the Walt Disney studios) and won five of those wards, including Best Actress for Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee”. Since it’s theatrical release back in 1964, Mary Poppins continues to enchant viewers new and old on various home video releases, receiving many prestigious awards throughout the years, including being selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Now, almost 54 years since Mary Poppins graced the silver screen, it’s time to everyone’s favorite nanny to return as Walt Disney Studios and director Rob Marshall presents Mary Poppins Returns. Is this log belated sequel from the “house of mouse” worth a glance or is it a far cry from the beloved classic?
Set in London, England during the “The Great Slump” (the “Great Depression”) of the 1930s, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) are now grown-up adult, with the former even has three children of his own: Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and George (Joel Dawson). While Jane has followed in her mother’s footsteps in becoming a labor activist, Michael is struggling in the wake of his wife’s passing, and unintentionally ends up behind on repaying a loan that he took from Fidelity Fiduciary Bank (the same place where his father used to work and is where Michael is currently employed at). When Michael learns that the bank intends to foreclose on his house by the end of the week unless he pays his loan in full, he and Jane remember that their father left them shares in the bank that should cover their expenses…. if they could only find the written document that the shares existed. As Michael and Jane search frantically for their father’s document, the Banks former nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), magically returns, who quickly takes Michael’s children under her wing. With a little help from Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a cheerful lamplighter who first met Mary as an apprentice to her old pal Bert, the “Practically Perfect” nanny does her part to bring some “magic” into the Banks’ lives.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh…. where do I begin. While I never actually read in reading P.L. Travers’s original novels, I have to say that I grew up watching Mary Poppins; finding a lot of my childhood memories of viewing the classic multiple times. While some parts I didn’t get until sometime later (like Mrs. Banks being a suffragette), majority of the film I can recall, especially all the whimsical moments and scenes. Plus, I always loved actress Julie Andrews as everyone’s favorite English nanny as well as all the film’s songs, including “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilistcexpialidocious” (some of my personal favorites for the film). Even now, despite the movie coming out in 1964, Mary Poppins still enchants me as I’m sure it does with plenty of viewers out there (both old and new generations), who find the “practically perfect” nanny to be exceptional and the movie that she’s in. All in all, Mary Poppins is quite literally a beloved masterpiece from Disney that’s definitely a wonder to be hold and classic piece of cinematic entertainment.
Of course, this bring me back to talking about Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to 1964’s Mary Poppins. Like many out there, I thought that the original Mary Poppins was great and fantastic and really a good standalone feature film. Then the announcement news was released that Disney, after 54 years since its release, was gonna make a Mary Poppins sequel and I wasn’t really too thrilled, especially this coming from the movie era of Disney revamping and reimaging some of the classic films into new ones. Like many movie sequels of late, this idea kind of left a “meh” taste in my mouth, especially given the fact that Mary Poppins really didn’t need a sequel installment. However, Disney being Disney green lighted this project and Mary Poppins now as the longest belated sequel to arrive after the original film. Of course, after seeing the film’s trailers, I was quite intrigued to see Mary Poppins Returns; mostly curious to see how actress Emily Blunt would handle her portrayal of the famous fictional nanny (compared to Julie Andrews) and how the movie will ultimately play out. So, I went to see the movie on its opening night, but I got busy with work (working retail during the holiday season…hooray!), which is why I’m writing this review a bit later than most. What did I think of the movie? Well, it was rather good. While it definitely can’t beat out the original Mary Poppins film (that everyone still loves in cherish), Mary Poppins Returns is still a delightful and whimsical film that pays homage to the predecessor, while standing on its own merits and nuances. It’s an unnecessary sequel to be sure, but it’s still a good, wholesome, and visually appealing one…that’s for damn sure.
Mary Poppins Returns is directed by Robb Marshall, whose previous directorial works includes Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago, and Into the Woods. Given how well-presented (and well-received) of big musical hits like Chicago and Into the Woods, Marshall seems like a perfect fit for directing a sequel to Mary Poppins. To his credit, Marshal does succeed in crafting this particular movie in both a sensible and whimsical fashion to the original 1964 movie. Marshall seems to know that the movie can’t overtake the original film, so he integrates a healthy dose of nostalgia charm into Mary Poppins Returns, revisiting the timeless tale of P.L. Travers’s character and her time with the Banks family on Cherry Tree Lane. In a similar fashion to the original, Marshall keeps the movie on an episodic sub-plot adventure with a main overarching narrative tying them altogether; ensuring of musical numbers, dancing sequences, and wonderment within its presentations and in the characters that are complied within those respective scenes. Additionally, the movie doesn’t feel as long as it really is (running two hours and ten minutes long) with Marshall keeping Mary Poppins Returns moving at a brisk pace and letting the film’s whimsical nature of magic and songs enchant and entertaining its viewers. As a result, Marshall does great work in shaping and helming Mary Poppins Returns effectively and cinematically.
The script for Mary Poppins Returns, which was penned by David Magee and an original story credited to Magee, Marshall, and John DeLuca feels like an appropriate return to where the 1964 film left off (albeit set in the mid-1930s). The story / script team also adapts elements and characters from the sequel novels that Travers wrote as well as honoring / continuing the narrative from the original Disney inspired movie. In addition, the script allows to integrate some more modern narrative threads and timely concerns, including a faltering economy and a person’s financial insecurity, and the greediness of banks during these turbulent times. Still, the movie has plenty of for whimsical nuances and singing and dancing with Mary Poppins by adding plenty visual charm within the story. That being said, the heart of the feature rest once again with the Banks family, but more importantly with the head of the household (i.e. Michael Banks) and how he deals with his current situation and rediscovering what he has loss since his childhood. This is a well-utilized and thematic message that’s has been done time and time again (Disney recent uses this in 2018’s Christopher Robin) and, while it might feel commonplace, it still feels genuine and organic in the movie.
In terms of presentation, Mary Poppins Returns is wonderfully made and plenty attention to detail throughout the movie. From onset to conclusion, the film looks visually beautifully and its easy to tell that Disney spared no expense on putting money into this sequel endeavor, matching equally impressive in its stunning overall “look and feel” in the motion picture. For starters, the entire art department should be commended for their efforts made in the movie, designs a background setting (conceptually) in making London, England have its own mystery and allure within the designated timeline era of the 1930s. This also extends to the productions designs by John Myhre and set decorations by Gordon Sim, which fully realize the art department’s ideas and drawings and brings them to life by way and means of practical measures. Another big component in the presentation of Mary Poppins Returns is the costumes designs by Sandy Powell, which offer a variety of practical / appropriate attire for the era as well as some exquisite looking pieces (including Cousins Topsy and Mary Poppins outfits) and the entire make-up department, especially in Mary Poppins herself. Lastly, the cinematography for the film is also really good, creating a striking piece of cinematics that’s pleasing to the eye and feels quite appealing within its various camera angles and usage of lightning effects.
Of course, while the film’s musical score, which was composed by Marc Shaiman, is really good and feels melodically lighthearted (matching perfectly well with the movie), one of the big highlights of Mary Poppins Returns is the musical songs featured throughout. Naturally, the song in the original film have since become iconic and instant classics to Disney’s movie history as well as cinematic moviemaking history. Thus, its tough feat for Mary Poppins Returns to try outmatch the songs from its predecessor, especially since many have grown up with songs like “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Step in Time”, and “Supercalifragilistcexpialidocious”. The result….is a collection of songs that are pretty good, but not quite as memorable songs in the original film. Don’t get me wrong…the songs in Mary Poppins Returns are good and almost all of them are quite catchy, including some of the big number hits like “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” (quite the showstopper scene of the feature) and “The Cover is Not a Book (Lin-Manuel Miranda gets do his lyrical fast-talking rapping bit in this song). The other songs in the movie are still good, but not quite as memorable (in both lyrics or screen presence). Still, all the songs in Mary Poppins Returns are melodically enough for the movie’s story and fit perfectly within their respective areas. Plus, I do have mention that all the choreographing for some of these musical numbers are quite well and definitely big applause to those who orchestrated all and to the extras that performed in them.
There are a few problems that I found with Mary Poppins Returns, which do take-away from the film’s overall enjoyment. The most notable that I assume that will undoubtedly be on everyone’s mind is the simple fact that this movie exists. What do I mean? Well, it really does go without saying that the first Mary Poppins was a great and fantastic standalone movie, especially for its time when sequels and remakes weren’t commonplace in Hollywood. That being said, Disney, with their current trend of revisiting some of their old movie properties, seems fit to return to the world of Mary Poppins after a 54-year gap between the first film and this sequel endeavor. While that’s the longest belated sequel time gap between the two movies, there’s really no reason to return the Travers’s nanny. Of course, Travers had several Mary Poppins novels published, but that doesn’t mean that Disney needs to revisit one of their most iconic and beloved live-action films of their illustrious filmmaking history. As said, the first Mary Poppins was great, but was a self-contained story and really didn’t require a sequel. Well, now we do have one and, despite my positive outlook on the movie, I felt that Mary Poppins Returns feels slightly unnecessary and the justifications to have a sequel to the 1964 film is not wholly desired.
In conjunction with that idea, Mary Poppins Returns relies too heavy on the first film, with certain narrative points and scenes feeling identical to the 1964 film. Yes, I do agree that the movie has plenty of nostalgia feel throughout (and that’s a good thing), but some parts of the film feels like a carbon copy of the first film, including an 2D animated journey (Bert’s screever vs. Royal Doulton china bowl), an eccentric relative (Uncle Albert vs. Cousin Topsy), and a big song / dancing number (Step in Time vs. Trip a Little Light Fantastic). There’re a couple more similar parallels between the two films but you get what I’m talking about. Suffice to say, Marshall (along with Maggie and DeLuca) seems to rely too much on what made the original film great in this sequel, making Mary Poppins Returns a sort of “greatest hits” to Mary Poppins in ends up feeling derivate to its predecessor. To me, this particular aspect wasn’t a huge “deal breaker” for me to either love and / or hate the movie, but I would’ve liked to seeing something a bit more different and original in this sequel of which can stand on its own original merits rather than feeling like an updated version of 1964’s Mary Poppins. Again, I still like the movie, but a little bit of creativity / originality could go a long way.
Speaking of the original film, I felt that particular narrative was more wholesome and well-rounded in both its story being told and several of the main characters; able to explore a wide variety within its two hours and nineteen-minute runtime. Mary Poppins Returns is shorter by nine minutes (clocking in around two hours and ten minutes), but feels like there could have been more to it, expanding upon certain ideas, especially in certain character developments (i.e. Jane Banks). It’s kind of hard to explain (and trying to put into words), but the original film had a more of a narrative focus as it ebbed and flow throughout the story, while Mary Poppins Returns’s narrative path needs to be tweaked and better focused.
The cast in Mary Poppins Returns is an incredible solid cast, with plenty of recognizable faces (both big name actors / actresses and some minor ones) that help bolster the various characters in the movie. Of course, the big headliner of the feature is undoubtedly the iconic character of Mary Poppins herself, who is played by actress Emily Blunt. Known for her roles The Devil Wears Prada, A Quiet Place, and Into the Woods, Blunt is exceptional in the role of Mary Poppins, putting her own personal theatrical stamp on the character (a mixture cheeky wit and tender wisdom), but also makes her iteration feel genuine to what’s come before from the original film. Naturally, the most obvious thing that everyone will do (when watching Blunt in the movie) is to compare her performance to that of famed actress Julie Andrews’s portrayal of Mary Poppins in the 1964 film. It’s definitely a hard thing to compare, especially since its one of the Andrews most memorable roles (save for her role of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music) and has stood the test of “cinematic time”. That being said, Blunt actually does a great job as Mary Poppins and (again) doesn’t try to imitate or outshine Andrews’s portrayal of Travers’s famous English nanny. Blunt’s result is a sterner (and a bit humorously vainer) Mary that’s more in line with how P.L. Traver probably envisioned her, but also adds a certain type of gravitas for some of the film’s emotional dramatic moments. Plus, it also helps that Blunt can sing and does so beautifully throughout the movie, able to be melodically “pitch perfect” in every song she performs. All in all, Blunt is excellent as Mary Poppins in the movie makes the role her own with a bit more “cheeky sass” than what probably what Andrews would’ve been allowed to portray in the original 1964 movie. As a side-note, actor Edward Hibbert (The Prestige and The First Wives Club) provides the voice for Mary Poppin’s umbrella (actor David Tomlinson provided the voice in the original film).
While Blunt truly does headline the movie as Mary Poppins, Lin-Manuel Miranda (composer, lyricist, singer, and actor) provides a solid secondary prominent figure in the movie as Jack, the cockney lamplighter and former apprentice of Bert from the original film. Known for his Broadway work on the musical hit show Hamilton, Miranda is a perfect fit for a character like Jack and definitely has that friendly / charm swagger whenever he’s on-screen. He definitely brings a loveable charm to Jack, who appears throughout the movie by helping the Banks family as well as Mary Poppins by offering friendly advice and song singing / dancing numbers. Like Blunt, the movie benefits from Miranda being able to sing and does masterfully does well, especially in the songs “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and “A Cover is Not a Book”. Additionally, Miranda pulls off a better English cockney accent more so than Dick Van Dyke in the first movie. Perhaps my only complaint is both Blunt and Miranda, while good on-screen together, don’t really have that flirtatious chemistry that was felt with Andrews and Van Dyke in the original film. However, that’s just a minor quibble.
While the characters of Mary Poppins and Jack plays their respective parts in the movie, the Banks family are the true heart of the story, with the film’s narrative centered around in both the adults (Michael and Jane) and the children (John, Annabel, and Georgie). Playing the older iteration of Michael and Jane are actor Ben Whishaw (Paddington and Skyfall) and actress Emily Mortimer (The Newsroom and Match Point). Together, the pair present a convincing sibling unit of the older iteration of Michael and Jane Banks, displaying all the same unbridled grit and determination that their characters possessed as children in the 1964 film. While Michael has more of the dramatic plight of the movie’s story (losing his wife, dealing with stress, and losing his “child” wonderment), the character of Jane feels a tad bit underdeveloped. She has a character build in the movie, but it seems less important compared to anything else and could’ve been easily expanded upon. The same thing can be said with Jack’s somewhat attraction to Jane. It’s there, but never fully examined, which is a shame. All in all, Whishaw and Mortimer are great in the adult roles of Michael and Jane Banks and help strengthen the movie for their respective sum parts.
The new Banks children, who are played by Nathaniel Saleh (Game of Thrones and Days of the Bagnold Summer) as John, actress Pixie Davies (Humans and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) as Annabelle, and actor Joel Dawson (making his theatrical debut in the movie) as Georgie, do surprisingly well for young child actors, making this new generation of Banks children quite the precocious bunch without them being annoying (which is a good thing). Unlike the child iteration of Michael and Jane, this trio of Banks children had to deal with the loss of their mother and forced to grow up fast, selling a bit more cynicism and growing up persona a few times throughout the movie, while Mary Poppins shows up and shows them the wonderment of youth (with a little bit of magic). In the end, all three do fill out their roles good and make for solid trio of the Banks children.
Of the more secondary characters in the movie is the character of William “Weatherall” Wilkins, the current president of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank and who is played by actor Colin Firth. Known for his roles in The King’s Speech, Mamma Mia!, and A Single Man, Firth is another perfect fit to be featured in Mary Poppins Returns, displaying the right amount of British upper-class attitude in Wilkins as well as bringing a sense of seasoned gravitas to the film’s proceedings. His character of Wilkins may not be his definitive role in his career, but he’s a definite fit and perfectly cast in it. Behind Firth’s Wilkins is the character of Topsy, Mary Poppins’s eccentric Eastern European cousin that runs a “fix-it” shop in London, who is played by actress Meryl Streep. Known for her roles in The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia!, and Doubt, Streep is a talented actress and seems to relish in playing a character like this, portraying the right amount of “cooky” / “over the top” eccentricities that make-up cousin Topsy (or rather her full name…Tatiana Antanasia Cositori Topotrepolovsky). Although her screen-time is limited to one lengthy sequence, Streep makes her character memorable in that scenes, thanks to her acting talents, her singing (she sings the song “Turning Turtle), and her costume outfit by Powell. The rest of the more secondary characters in the movie, includes actress Julie Walters (Mamma Mia! and Billy Elliot) as Michael’s and Jane’s long-time housekeeper Ellen (actress Hermione Baddeley portrayed the character in the original film) and a cameo-like appearance of original Mary Poppins actor Dick Van Dyke (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Dick Van Dyke Show), who plays Mr. Dawes Jr. (the son of character Mr. Dawes Sr. in the first film, the current chairman of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, and William’s uncle) in Mary Poppins Returns. Together both Walters and Van Dykes’ character inclusion in the movie are great, despite their limited screen-time and do make their scenes memorable whenever on-screen.
Rounding out the cast are few minor supporting players, including actor David Warren (Tron and Titanic) as the Bank’s staunchly “by-the-book” retired naval officer neighbor Admiral Boom (actor Reginald Owen portrayed the character in the first movie), actor Jim Norton (The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas and Straw Dogs) as Boom’s first mate Mr. Binnacle (actor Don Barclay portrayed the character, while actor David Tomlinson provided his voice in the original film), actor Jeremy Swift (Gosford Park and Downton Abbey) as one of Wilkins’ lawyer associates Hamilton Gooding, actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (The Double and The Commuter) as another one of Wilkins’ lawyer associates Templeton Frye, actress Noma Dumeweni (Black Earth Rising and Doctor Who) as Wilkins’ secretary Miss Penny Farthing, actress Sudha Bhuchar (Doctors and EastEnders) as the Banks’ dog owner neighbor Miss Lark, and actress Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote and Bedknobs and Broomsticks) as the Balloon Lady (a character that comes from Travers novels, much like the “Bird Woman” in the first film). Much like what I said about the secondary characters above, all of these characters do their part in their respective scenes and are elevated by their actors / actresses that portray them.
Additionally, it also must be mentioned that Firth, Holdbrook-Smith, and Swift provide the voice work for the animated animal counterparts during the Royal Doulton Bowl sequence respectfully. Lastly, actors Chris O’Dowd (Moone Boy and Bridesmaid) and Mark Addy (Game of Thrones and A Knight’s Tale) as Shamus the Coachman Dog and Clyde the Horse in the animated Royal Doulton Bowl sequence.
Through turbulent times of financial woe, Michael and Jane Banks get an unexpected surprise from their old nanny in the movie Mary Poppins Returns. Director Rob Marshall’s latest film sees the return P.L. Travers famous English nanny, acting as a direct sequel to the original 1964 Mary Poppins feature film and bring with it all the whimsical charm and “pomp” throughout its presentation. While the movie does feel like a retread of “greatest hits” from the first Mary Poppins as well as a few minor problems here and there, the film succeeds in being a joyous return to this musical world, especially thanks to Marshall’s direction, the complete “visual” style (costumes, set designs, choreography, cinematography, etc.), the a few catchy musical numbers (although not quite as memorable to the original movie ones), and the film’s solid cast (most notable Blunt’s performance). To me, I liked this movie. Again, it really didn’t need to be made (the original Mary Poppins was great as a “one and done” standalone endeavor), but this sequel was still quite charmingly fun and entertaining, and didn’t disappointment at all. Was it necessary? No. Could it have been better? Yes. However, the end result was still satisfying and (again) I liked it. Thus, my recommendation for Mary Poppins Returns is a “recommended” one as it has something for everyone of all ages (whether a new generation discovering Mary Poppins for the first time or catching up with their favorite nanny). While there are rumors that there might be another Mary Poppins sequel in the works at Disney (giving how the positive reception for this movie has been), I think it would be best just leave Traver’s English nanny alone and let this particular movie be the only sequel to the 1964 film. Regardless if that does happen or not, Mary Poppins Returns is still an entertaining motion picture, taking a journey back to Cherry Tree Lane and accompanying the “Practically Perfect” nanny through a series of whimsical delights, dancing lamp-lighters, and all sorts of “impossible” things to marvel over.
4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: December 19th, 2018
Reviewed On: January 27th, 2019
Mary Poppins Returns is 130 minutes long and is rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action