More than 50 years after the beloved original, “Mary Poppins Returns” is a largely forgettable, overly saccharine and utterly unnecessary sequel.
It’s all style and little substance. A spoonful of sugar and none of the medicine.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. Everyone involved is truly trying their best to live up to the original Disney classic. “Mary Poppins Returns” is colorful and whimsical in equal measure, with songs that are fine while you’re watching. Just don’t expect that same supercalifragilisticexpialidocious magic.
The little boy from the first film, Michael Banks, is now a grieving widower and failed artist, who is struggling to raise his three kids with the occasional help of his sister. He’s also fallen behind on repaying a loan, so the bank wants to foreclose on his childhood home.
Enter, once again, the magical and mysterious Mary Poppins, who flies in through the clouds to take the children on a bunch of cartoon adventures, and generally make the best of the Banks family’s mess.
If all you want is a fun, family-friendly trip to the theater this holiday season, “Mary Poppins Returns” is fine. Production values are top notch, everybody seems to know what they’re doing and everything is generally happy throughout. But it’s all empty calories. It’s all fluff all the time.
There’s no deeper lesson or theme to impart in “Mary Poppins Returns”. There’s no somberness or moment of reflection. There’s no “Feed the Birds”.
The titular Mary Poppins has been recast with Emily Blunt, who takes an enjoyable turn as the magical nanny. She’s as sharp and as clever as ever, reveling in her magic and singing to the rafters. Mary Poppins, as a character, is beloved by millions around the world, and Blunt does a fine job stepping into her shoes. She’s the best part of the film.
But instead of recasting Mary’s sidekick Bert, famously played by Dick Van Dyke in his prime, the new movie decides to replace him with a nearly identical duplicate named Jack. Lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, still riding high from the success of “Hamilton”, lends his musical talent to the film, but the character is an odd duck. Jack comes off as more of a hanger-on than an original character.
Maybe Miranda can’t do a good Dick Van Dyke impression, so the movie just gave the character a new name.
Three new children fill in the necessary roles of Mary Poppins’ charges this time around, but none of them stand out as individuals. Ben Wishaw and Emily Mortimer are the grown up Banks children, Michael and Jane, but Wishaw’s attempts to play a stern father are undercut by a ridiculous mustache.
Mary Poppins should have told him to shave it off.
“Mary Poppins Returns” has its charms. It’s bright, colorful and whimsical, with great reverence for the original. But it’s
also a missed opportunity for something deeper and more memorable.