By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
Nearly 55 years after the release of Disney’s Oscar-winning film, “Mary Poppins,” the magical nanny is back to enchant a whole new generation of Banks children in the highly anticipated sequel, “Mary Poppins Returns.”
Now starring the always delightful Emily Blunt (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Into the Woods”) in the titular role, the movie picks up not quite as far into the future as the time that’s really passed since “Mary Poppins’” 1964 release, taking place a couple of decades later in Depression-era London. Siblings Michael (Ben Whishaw, “Paddington”) and Jane (Emily Mortimer, “The Newsroom”) Banks are now adults with Michael having three precocious children of his own—Anabel (Pixie Davies, “Humans”), John (Nathanael Saleh, “Game of Thrones”) and Georgie (newcomer Joel Dawson)—who were forced to grow up rather quickly following the death of their mother. This results in the return of Mary Poppins to not only help Michael out, but also teach the children how to be kids again.
As Mary takes the children on wild, fantastical adventures, writers David Magee (“Finding Neverland”), Rob Marshall (who also directed the film) and John DeLuca are able to go through a checklist of sorts, crossing off one by one all of the things “Mary Poppins” fans would expect to see from a sequel. Animated sequence? Check. Lavish musical numbers? Check. Yet, the magic of the original “Mary Poppins” seems to be missing.
The movie shines brightest when rooted in reality, as Michael and Jane search for their father’s missing shares certificate to save their family home from being repossessed by the bank. The musical, dream-like sequences with Mary, the kids and local lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton”) seem almost out of place in the film, even though audiences are obviously expecting to see them since they are watching a “Mary Poppins” movie.
Part of the sequel’s problem is its soundtrack, which fails to have one truly memorable song. Audiences will leave the theater wondering which number will be the next “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” but truth be told, there isn’t one. Whereas the Sherman Brothers wrote countless songs that have withstood the test of time for the original “Mary Poppins”—“Feed the Birds,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Step in Time,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “A Spoonful of Sugar”—the soundtrack to its sequel (written by “Smash’s” Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) just isn’t as catchy. Only “Nowhere to Go but Up” and “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” are remotely memorable, but even then, a day later viewers will forget how the tunes go.
“Mary Poppins Returns’” one strong suit is its cast. Blunt is “practically perfect” stepping into Julie Andrews’ shoes, which is no small feat by any means. Mortimer and Miranda also are a joy to watch, and the children are simply adorable. There are even a few not-so-surprise cameos audiences are sure to enjoy, including an appearance by the always spry Dick Van Dyke.
While “Mary Poppins Returns” doesn’t diminish the original “Mary Poppins” in any way, it also doesn’t add much to the franchise, either. Just like Mary Poppins disappears at the film’s end without so much as a good-bye, noting how adults never seem to remember the magic that surrounds them for more than a day, “Mary Poppins Returns” will be quickly forgotten by those who grew up with the original Disney classic on repeat. Children may remember the film for a bit longer, but overall, it’s an entertaining 130 minutes spent at the cineplex and not much more.