54 years after the original, Mary Poppins Returns has been a long time coming. Fortunately, it feels like it shares the same whimsical and carefree mood of the original, free of any cynical modernisation. Unfortunately, the surprises and excitement just aren’t quite there, making such a big fuss to impress so little.
The young Banks siblings of the original film are now all grown up, but Michael (Ben Wishaw) is having financial issues as a widowed man with two kids, who are facing eviction. Luckily for them, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns, unchanged in the past 25 years, and takes care of the kids as Michael and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) search the house for their father’s certificate that entitles them to some financially lucrative shares.
Mary Poppins Returns does succeed in looking and sounding like a Mary Poppins sequel, featuring some eye-popping set-design, whether it’s the overcast and slightly quirky 1940s London setting or the lavish extravagance of the fantasy sequences – a 2-D animation/live action segment that harks back to the original is a truly magical and exciting highlight of the film.
But Mary Poppins Returns unfortunately fails at feeling like a Mary Poppins sequel. There are lots of loud and colourful bells and whistles, but most of it doesn’t translate into fun. Although the songs tackle mostly important themes (such as, uhhh, taking baths … seemingly with your undergarments on), none of them are memorable from a musical perspective – in hindsight, they all seem to meld into one large, loud, and forgettable gloop of overly-bombastic music. The same goes for the dancing, with unimpressive and unexciting choreography doesn’t amount to much more than a lot of jumping around.
At least the film gets some of the casting right. There doesn’t seem to be any other actress who could’ve played the legendary character better than Emily Blunt. Although she does wonders by stepping so confidently in her boots, the witless script lets her down and doesn’t feature too much for her to do other than throw out plenty of politely snarky comments.
It’s unlikely this long-awaited sequel will become quite as treasured as the original. It’s likely that it will work as easy-going nostalgia for those with rose-tinted glasses. But for hardcore fans and newcomers of what can now be called the Mary Poppins series, this may feel like a thoroughly stylish, but empty and simple-minded headache of a family film.