Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

It hurts me to say this installment needs more than just a spoonful of sugar to become palatable.

Let me start by clarifying that I do not have an abnormal attachment to the original “Mary Poppins.”  It’s never been in my top ten favorite Disney movies (not even the top fifty if you include Pixar, Avengers and Star Wars as part of their catalog), but the music is haunting (especially “Chim Chim Chee-ree” which I still remember trying to learn how to play on the piano to impress Ms. Zimmerman in the fifth grade) and the story is genuine, so it’s a classic.  Still, if I’m being honest, I probably prefer “Saving Mr. Banks” to “Mary Poppins,” so this isn’t some rant of a Disneyphile purist.

All that understood I’m really torn on this.

There were some things that they got really right:

  • Casting:  Emily Blunt could not have been a better pick for this role.  Mind = Blown and I’m officially petitioning her and John Krasinski to adopt me.  (On that note, I will no longer refer to her as “Real Life Pam”—she’s earned my recognition in her own right.)  She captured  all of the wonder that defines Mary Poppins, as well as 85% of the austere sternness, 95% of the practical perfection, and, surprisingly, 99% of the vocal aptitude.  The children were also wonderful.  Michael didn’t really sell it for me, but that’s more due to lazy writing than the actor.  This may be TMI, but I personally think Lin Manuel Miranda was a little too sexy to play the part of Jack, but that could be me just crushing on such a dynamic performer.  He did a great job and I’d listen to him sing the phone book.
  • Terrorizing Children:  Disney really doubled down on their traditional child tragedy formula with this one, with the children (and Michael) coping with the loss of their mom AND the threat of losing their home on Cherry Tree Lane.  It was unoriginal, but you’ve got to hand it to Disney to really know how to play to a child’s worst fears.
  • Cinematography:  This may have my favorite part, excluding Emily Blunt.  The main animation sequence (though I’m guessing it left P.L. Travers spinning in her grave) was gorgeous and a unique mix of traditional and 3-D styles.  All of the other grander London scenes also looked like something out of fairy tale while still appreciating the “screen stage style” of the first movie, complete with exhausting opening credits.

Then there were the things they got really wrong:

  • Music:  I do not remember one song in this movie.  I seem to recall Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda performing them beautifully, but not one chorus/lyric was catchy enough to stick with me.  In fact, I left with “Topsey Turvey Day” from Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” stuck in my head (this will make sense when you see it).  How bad is the music in a musical when the audience leaves singing music from a different musical?   Not to say the music was “bad” per se, just utterly forgettable and how unfortunate is that given this (now) franchise’s pedigree?
  • Story:  So predictable.  So, so very predictable.  It was basically the plot from “The Brady Bunch Movie,” down to the obvious source of resolution noticeably planted early on.  I would say they stole it, but I feel like this has been the plot of so many movies it surely qualifies as free use.

At the end of the day, this is definitely a kids movie, only bereft of the emotional heft that made adults love the original.  The most consistent element between the two films was ultimately what an unspeakably horrible nanny Marry Poppins would have been in real life. Seriously, she lets the kids dance on rooftops with dozens of strange, men without so much as a harness or a background check.

I liked it and don’t regret seeing it, but if you only see a few movies here and there don’t waste your time with this one.

mary poppins returns

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