25 years after a nanny made their lives whimsical, the Banks family has, once again, fallen on hard times. Michael, a widowed father of three, is struggling to keep the bank from repossessing his house, while his sister Jane, a labor organizer, is doing all she can to keep Michael from breaking down. Just when it seems like all hope is lost, Mary Poppins, the very same nanny who filled their lives with magic and musical numbers, descends from the heavens, intent on saving the family from despair with the power of song and dance. What else?
Mary Poppins Returns is the anti-Christopher Robin. What I mean by that is, like Winnie The Pooh, Mary Poppins is a Disney property I grew up with. It’s my mom’s favorite film, and she must have made us watch it a thousand times when we were little. Literally every time we drove in the car together, she forced us to sing along to the soundtrack. Also like Winnie The Pooh, Disney decided to give us a live-action sequel; wherein the fantastical characters from the original return to make the grown-up-children from the original’s lives fun again. But unlike Christopher Robin, which I found to be sweet and charming, and surprisingly well directed, I found this film to be a slog to get through.
Now it’s perfectly possible that I’m biased, since I love Winnie The Pooh, and kind of resent Mary Poppins because my mother forced it on me, but, even with that in mind, there are some filmmaking problems that I simply can’t overlook. But before I get into those, I do want to list some positives. The film is well acted, with Emily Blunt shining in the title role, and Lin-Manuel Miranda stealing every scene he’s in. The sets, costumes, and visual effects are all very impressive. Rob Marshall, the man behind Chicago and Memoirs Of A Geisha, directed this film. No one’s ever accused him of being a deep or profound storyteller, but one thing you can say for certain is that he has a good eye for spectacle. And there’s a lot of spectacle in this film. So, purely as nostalgic eye candy, it’s fine enough. But nostalgia can only take you so far. You either have to do something different, which this film absolutely doesn’t, or you have to get in and get out quickly, which it certainly doesn’t do either. Mary Poppins Returns is essentially just a remake of the original, hitting all the same story beats, and featuring some of the same set-pieces, like when the children enter a fantasy world and interact with animated animals, and it goes on for a LONG time. I checked, and this film clocks in at about 2 hours and 10 minutes. That’s really long for a kid’s movie, and it just doesn’t need to be. There’s an entire subplot involving a bowl–the children want to sell it, it gets broken, Mary Poppins takes them inside it, and then takes them to get it fixed–that has no impact on the plot, and could easily have been cut. Seriously, the main conflict gets resolved without the help of the bowl, and after the children go and ask Meryl Streep to fix it, it never gets brought up again. And speaking of Meryl Streep, as fantastic an actor as she is, she really took me out of the movie. Not just because her whole scene was pointless, but also because her over the top accent and mannerisms really clashed with the rest of the film. So, in the end, I don’t think I can recommend this film to you all. As a piece of visual art, it’s well made, and if you like the original, I’m sure you’ll have fun. But as an experience, it goes on for way too long, and is kind of boring in some places. Make of this what you will.