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Alan Charlton

Mary Poppins Returns in all-too-familiar fashion

Voices March 22, 2019

Emily Blunt stars in a scene from the movie "Mary Poppins Returns," a sequel to the 1964 film "Mary Poppins." (CNS photo/Jay Maidment, courtesy Disney)

Now that the film awards are over for 2019, and it is no longer urgent to see the front runners before they disappear from the screen, one can pick up the pieces in the shape of some of those films which were mentioned but garnered few awards. One such film is Mary Poppins Returns, which was frequently nominated in various categories, but which actually got top place in few. 

This is, in fact, a reflection of the film itself, which, though admirable in many respects, did not quite reach the heights that one would wish.

Of course, many are familiar with the 1964 Mary Poppins, with its Oscar-winning performance by Julie Andrews in the title role. Of course, even that award was somewhat suspect as many felt that it was simply revenge for Ms. Andrews not being given the lead in My Fair Lady, despite having debuted the lead on Broadway to great acclaim. However, none can dispute that she turned in a superb performance in a film which had considerable merit. Its songs were tuneful; its performances, especially that of Dick van Dyke, excellent; its production values superb. 

The question naturally arises, therefore, whether the sequel lives up to its precursor. The answer is that to some extent it does. However, its major flaw is that it breaks no new ground and seems to be an attempt to repeat the forerunner’s success by imitating it.

Once again we have Mary Poppins coming to the rescue of the Banks family – though the next generation. Once again, Mary Poppins engages the children in a series of adventures accompanied by bright songs and colourful settings. Once again, virtue triumphs (as is only to be expected), and the whole thing concludes with yet another joyous musical number.

The problem, however, is that it instead of coming up with an entirely new approach, the sequel simply reflects and imitates the original. Instead of chimney sweeps, we have lamplighters; instead of cartoon penguins interacting with real people in a fantasy sequence, we have a variety of cartoon characters interacting with real people. And so it goes.

This is not to say that the proceedings are not carried out with considerable skill. Emily Blunt is a suitably arch Mary Poppins; Lin-Manuel Miranda does a charming performance in the style of Dick van Dyke; and the rest of the cast perform convincingly and engagingly, with a veritable host of stars making cameo appearances, including Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, and even Dick van Dyke himself. The songs are tuneful and suitably engaging. Rob Marshall’s direction is delightfully sharp. Wyatt Smith’s editing is superb. In other words, it would all be perfect if we had not experienced so much of it before.

I must confess to being unfamiliar with the original books on which the film is based, but surely there must have been something different in them, rather than a mere repetition of what had already been presented. Sadly, there is no reflection of this in the newest film version.

However, Mary Poppins Returns still remains engaging, entertaining, and enjoyable. Doubtless grandparents will be happy to re-experience the past, while children will equally happily experience what may well be new to them - though with a running time of 130 minutes, the very young may find it overstays its welcome.

It is good to have a children’s movie which is free of monsters, aliens, and horrors. Mary Poppins Returns may be too derivative, but at least it repeats the past with joyous gusto and that is not a bad thing – just somewhat disappointing.