Review: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Is Just Serviceable
Mary Poppins Returns with desperation. It’s a desperation to recreate the allure of the original. It’s a desperation to be liked, adored by millions like its predecessor. So acute is the desperation that story tracks of the original have been covered beat by beat, albeit with minor modulations.
To strip the comeback of Mary Poppins off surprises further, the grand set-pieces of this Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into The Woods) vehicle also tries to reproduce popular highlights of the 1964 film.
Let’s begin with the memory of that heady mix of live-action and animation when the nutty nanny jumps into a street drawing with Bert and the kids. This new film serves the same brew, but this time the characters jump into a ceramic bowl.
Of course, now you’re wondering about the tea party in the air with Uncle Albert, right? It’s here, it’s here with Meryl Streep turning things upside down with an East European accent as Topsy.
The film (written by David Magee, John DeLuca and Marshall himself) comes 54 years after the popular musical, but the events of the film are set a few decades later. A lamplighter (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda) opens the film singing a sweetly acerbic tune about the merry London sky, often grey hidden under the chimney smoke.
At 17 Cherry Tree Lane, the Banks children are adults now. Michael (Ben Whishaw) is a widow, taking care of three young children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson), and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) has grown up to be a labour activist, just like her mother.
When our magical nanny descends from the sky, she arrives at the Banks household in disarray. Michael is still grieving his wife’s death, and their house is about to be confiscated by a bank. The 1964 Robert Stevenson directed version had minor issues that Mary Poppins had to fix, but in Marshall’s scheme of things, she has to take care of grief, finances, and emotional well-being. Off she goes, making merry, and matching dance steps with the kids. But this translates to a story that buries its head in the sand, its light-hearted foot unable to match the pensive gravitas it has taken upon itself.
Now the biggest question would obviously be, how’s the new Mary Poppins? Filling the shoes of Julie Andrews is already an uphill task, but Emily Blunt takes it up by mapping PL Travers' whimsical writing and making it into her own.
For the love of your precious childhood memories, you might wait for the movie to cast its spell on you, but you’ll be waiting a long time, for it never arrives fully. The songs composed by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman service the wonderfully realised set-pieces, but the tunes never catch on. And that’s not supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Mary Poppins Returns is serviceable, and all said and done, you will not curse your luck during its run. The only time that elusive rush of nostalgia arrives is when a cast member from the original returns to tap the smile out of you. But even that’s too little, too late in this manufactured fantasy.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)