Assembled more like one of Disney’s current ‘live action’ adaptations of their animated back catalogue than a genuine sequel to the 1964 original, “Mary Poppins Returns” brings back cinema’s premiere Nanny to answer another Banks crisis.
In Depression-era London, a now-grown Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael Banks (Ben Wishaw), along with Michael’s three children, face eviction from their family home, having fallen behind on the payments to the Bank. Enter Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), back to help out and put the Banks family back on the right track with the help of her lamplighter friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and an assortment of colourful musical numbers.
George Lucas once claimed that the many repetitive instances in the Star Wars prequel trilogy were deliberate ‘poetry’, rhyming with the original trilogy and so it is with this second Mary Poppins film. Having soothed its corporate conscience with “Saving Mr Banks”, Disney returns to the works of P L Travers to produce a checkbox musical which follows the template of the first movie to a fault. Each song in this new one has a counterpart in the original although only time will tell whether any of the new crop will have the same longevity as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. It’s also similar to the original in that it’s a little meandering, a little overlong and a lot overindulgent. There are too many extraneous musical numbers which add nothing to the plot which wouldn’t be a problem if the plot wasn’t so threadbare and inadequate. The villain’s motivations are never really properly articulated and the answer to the Banks’ woes is obvious to everyone except them apparently, not that it matters because everything is resolved with a Van Dyke ex machina cameo at the end.
Despite the uneven and indulgent script, the cast lift it up. Emily Blunt makes for a wonderful Mary Poppins, although slightly primmer yet more archly mischievous than Julie Andrews’ air of timeless wisdom. She’s matched by Miranda’s likeable Jack (of-all-trades) and the likes of Julie Walters, Ben Wishaw and Emily Mortimer although Colin Firth is curiously underserved by the script. There’s also an oddly conspicuous cameo towards the end featuring Angela Landsbury which was clearly intended for Julie Andrews (who passed on the role in order to voice the Karathen in “Aquaman” instead), neatly reversing the switch which occurred during the making of “Bedknobs And Broomsticks”.
Better than the soulless cash-grab some dismissed it as, but nowhere near as iconic as the original (but was it ever fair to expect it to be?) “Mary Poppins Returns” is still polished family entertainment, but if it’s going to restart the series it’ll need to take the risk of doing something new when “Mary Poppins Forever” comes around.