I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
Published January 21st 2019
A spoon full of sugar wasn't quite enough this time
Before I commence, I must confess that I have not seen the original Mary Poppins films since I was a child and do not remember much of the film outside of the music.
Mary Poppins Returns holds the record for the longest time in film history between the original film and its sequel. The original came out in 1964, the same year as My Fair Lady, the film that Julie Andrews was controversially replaced in the lead role by Audrey Hepburn.
Mary Poppins Returns is set some years later as the Banks children have now become adults. Michael (Ben Whishaw) is now a widowed father of three. His sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) assists him when she can and Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) arrives after the plot reveals one of the most cliché ideas in film; the evil bank is going to take their house unless they can repay their loan by midnight on Friday.
As adults, Michael and Jane don't remember, or believe, that the magical things they experienced as children actually happened, despite Mary Poppins clearly not ageing a day, and now it's the new children's turn to go on magical adventures with everyone's favourite nanny. Along for the journey is Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a gaslight attendant who for some reason, remembers Mary Poppins from the events of the first film, despite being an adult.
The film has been given a lot of time and love from the filmmakers, recreating a style of film making long forgotten. Hand drawn illustration is used, blended with live action, and the whole affair is very authentic to the original and the style of film making that Disney was so strong in when Walt was alive and in charge. However, despite the love and effort put into the film, overall, the film doesn't really work and has struggled somewhat to find an audience.
For me, it was about forty-five minutes in when I realised that the film felt like a series of musical skits that a TV show (such as How I Met Your Mother, or Family Guy) might break into. The problem is, that those fantasy musical numbers work as a one off and are kept short. In this film, song after song, dance number after dance number keep hitting the screen, but none of them feel particularly important to the story. Much of the film feels as though it's there simply because 'we're making a Mary Poppins film' and so the film doesn't need to worry about plot or character development. The film offers nothing new to the genre and is simply a recreation of a style of film making that is now forgotten. La La Land (2016) was a similar concept, but it was a fresh story and added new elements to the genre.
But the biggest flaw overall in the film was the music. The original is filled some of the best-known songs from film history. The music in this film is terribly dull, lifeless and unmemorable. It has all the orchestration of a 1950s Disney classic, but none of the memorable melodies. I challenge you to come out of the theatre and sing one of the songs from the movie.
The performances of the actors are very good, with Emily Blunt certainly giving a great performance. However, if you find her a little different to the original, that's because Blunt based her performance more on the books, rather than the original film. This at least gives us something new and Blunt clearly brought her A game for this role. Lin-Manuel Miranda is also very good, as his musical theatre skills are used a lot. But again, at times, he appears to be there purely for the sake of the musical number being performed and is not really needed for much of the plot.
The film feels trapped in its own history, with actors behaving unnaturally because they don't make movies like this anymore. Colin Firth is terribly wasted and comes off as a very weak villain. The endless smiling and sugary Disney-ness of the whole thing wears thin after awhile, especially with the yawn-inducing songs. By the end, the film completely goes off into a diabetic fantasy with the final scene closing out all the storylines. A lot of kids will struggle to keep their attention on the screen, as despite the 'magic' of the whole thing, it never really takes off, except for a few great dance sequences.
Those who are happy just to see the character again and are able to be swept away by the charm of the whole thing, may love the film. I've seen plenty of very positive reviews, mixed in with many disappointed ones.
This very long awaited sequel, like many long-awaited sequels, hasn't quite landed on its feet. The film has only a short time left at theatres, as it was blown away by Aquaman over the New Year period and the box office numbers have been a bit underwhelming. So if you're planning to see it, get along quickly before you miss out.
In preparation for seeing the sequel, I re-watched the original. Surprisingly, I found that many of the comments made by the reviewer about the sequel are also true of the original! Fully two thirds of the Julie Andrews version is devoted to singing, dancing and animation/special effects, with very little emphasis on plot, character or story development. And, as with the reviewer's experience of the sequel, I was yawning around three-quarters of the way into the movie - despite the wonderful memories I had from my first childhood viewing! Needless to say, I've not seen the sequel and will wait until it comes to Netflix or Stan!