Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place, The Girl on the Train) is practically perfect in every way as the practically-perfect nanny Mary Poppins in the long-awaited sequel, Mary Poppins Returns. The film itself, however, is not so practically-perfect, mostly because the songs are far less memorable and joyful than those featured in the 1964 classic starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. I guess you could say that Mary Poppins Returns is practically okay in every way that counts: it offers up decent family-friendly viewing over the holidays; is reminiscent of that bygone era of heartwarming live-action movie musicals; and is awash in colorful costumes and scenery.
In this all-new original musical that doubles as a sequel, Mary Poppins floats down from the London sky with her trademark umbrella to help the next generation of Banks children – Georgie (Joel Dawson) and Anabel (Pixie Davies) – as well as their widowed father Michael (Ben Whishaw) and their Aunt Jane (Emily Mortimer). It’s been a rough year for the Banks’, and now they’re in danger of losing their beloved house on Cherry Tree Lane to a corrupt banker (Colin Firth). Mary Poppins to the rescue!
The prim and proper Poppins hasn’t aged a bit, though she does seem a tad more sarcastic and self-aware these days. Her mission remains the same three decades later– to take the Banks children on a whimsical, magical adventure and bring the family closer together. Her chimney-sweep pal Bert has aged out of the picture (sort of), but in his place, we’ve got streetlamp-lighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Broadway’s Hamilton). Miranda is fine as Mary’s cockney sidekick, but underutilized in the film, to the point where he could have been played by any number of talented blokes.
Director Rob Marshall is no stranger to movie musical adaptations (Into the Woods, Chicago) but he had some really big shoes – and memories – to fill with this particular Disney classic, based upon the stories by P.L. Travers. I suspect Travers would have been just as resistant and difficult when it came to the sequel as she was with the original (for more on that, see the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks). The film ended on what was, for the most part, a satisfying sky-high note. Yet rather than rejoice in the nanny’s return, I found myself craving a “Spoonful of Sugar”, “Chim Chim Churee” and other classic tunes that weren’t in the sequel. Two weeks after seeing the film, I can’t remember any of the songs from Mary Poppins Returns. Perhaps they will resonate more with a new generation of Poppins fans. We shall see.
In the meantime, my advice to the filmmakers: when Mary Poppins returns again (as I suspect she will since the casting of Blunt is so ‘spit-spot’-on), throw us old folks a bone with the soundtrack. Something really supercalifrag…