Although a cash grab lacking a certain soul, Mary Poppins Returns is a fun adventure with some great songs. It only falls down in how much like the original it is trying to be, however young children and adults alike will be singing the songs regardless for years to come.
Returning to direct a feature since the moderately successful Into The Woods (2014), Rob Marshall brings Mary Poppins back to our screens for the first time in over 50 years. Making a name for himself with the cinematic version of the famous stage musical Chicago back in 2002 Marshall certainly has experience with the musical genre and does show. Mary Poppins Returns is a fun, happy, family friendly, all singing, all dancing time even if it is no more than a shameless cash grab. There is a certain soullessness to the film as it is practically a remake of the first with many of the same elements added into it, even if they have different names and different faces, but the songs are good, the performances well delivered and the choreography professional.
Emily Blunt takes the titular role and sadly over does it just a little. The accent is posh to the say the least, and hearing her say “spit-spot” every ten minutes does become a little grating. However it is unsurprising that this is the case as she did have rather massive shoes to fill following the legendary Julie Andrews. Her singing is excellent though as is her dancing, and in the end, the performance is worthy of the characters stature.
Lin Manuel Miranda plays her opposite as Jack the lamp lighter in the night. Sadly, even though he is meant to be a new character he is straight up Dick Van Dyke’s character of Bert the chimney sweep from the original. He plays the character well but the utter shameless lack of originality does take away from the characters feature in the film. Of course children who haven’t grown up with Bert will likely find Jack just as charming and fun as the original version. Sadly however for those who have grown up with Bert, will likely find Jack lacking.
The new children played by Pixie Davis, Nathaneal Saleh and Joel Dawson all do a wonderful job for such young ages and are given enough screen time and lines to really give these kids the opportunity to show what they’ve got and they don’t disappoint.
The songs are the absolute highlight of the film. Disney has never struggled with musicals and Marc Shaiman does a wonderful job with the highlights being Can You Imagine That and The Cover is Not the Book. All the actors came with their own singing voices which is wonderful to see and for the most part, did all of their own dancing. It is a common feature of musicals to sell soundtrack albums as much as cinema tickets and I doubt that Disney will struggle with the former as all the songs are catchy, memorable and just good listening.
Plot wise, the film follows many of the same beats as the original. A grown up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is struggling for money after the death of his wife when the bank comes to repossess his house. Following the death of their mother the three children are extremely grown up and have a grasp on reality that makes them seem mature but leaves them lacking in fun and imagination. In steps Mary Poppins to bring that sense of wonder back into the family’s lives and also bring them all closer together. Colin Firth plays that evil bank manager attempting to seize the Banks home in order to turn a profit for the bank in a time of economical despair. The plot is very predictable but that predictability provides a comfort rather than a tiredness as there are no dark twists or painful emotional moments, the film is just a rather nice time and is perfect for the target audience of young children.
Even though it is certainly lacking in originality, and is absolutely a cash grab on Disney’s behalf, Mary Poppins Returns is exactly what it sets out to be, a modern re-imagining of a classic tale. Emily Blunt whilst maybe over doing a little is definitely worthy of the titular characters history and the film is certainly a fun time that will have you whistling the tunes on your way out of the screening.