Friday, December 21, 2018

Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun and nostalgia filled follow up
Cons: Doesn't fill the huge shoes it has to fill
The Bottom Line:
The magic is back
Many echoes of the first
Still fun on its own

Magical and Fun?  Yes!  But Not Practically Perfect

When Disney first announced that they were making a sequel 50 plus years after the release of Mary Poppins, I wasn't sure how to take the news.  Mary Poppins is a true classic with iconic moments and songs that are part of our national culture.  Obviously, the cast couldn't come back.  Yet, there was a part of me that was excited, and that excitement grew as we started seeing teasers and previews for Mary Poppins Returns.

This film picks up roughly twenty-five years after the original.  Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw) are now grown.  While Jane is living in a flat in London and campaigning for worker's rights, the recently widowed Michael and his three kids are living in 17 Cherry Tree Lane.  They are struggling in every way imaginable since Michael's wife died, including financially.  Michael took out a loan to help with medical bills, and he's fallen behind on payments, which has lead the bank to forclose.  He has a week to come up with the entire loan amount or he will lose the family home.

Into this world returns Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) on the end of one particularly familiar kite.  She quickly resumes her position as the nanny to the Banks kids.  While the youngest, Georgie (Joel Dawson), is the first to pick up on her magic, the older two, John (Nathanael Saleh) and Anabel (Pixie Davies), have become little grownups over the past year in an effort to help their father deal with his loss and the daily struggle of running the family home.  With the help of Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a London lamp lighter, Mary and the kids set out on all kinds of wonderful adventures.  Will it help John and Annabelle regain their childhood?  Will Michael figure out a way to save the house?

I read all of the Mary Poppins books when I was a kid, and I wish I remembered them better.  The first movie took several stories and strung them together with a plot.  I have a feeling this movie did the same.  I have a vague recollection of stories involving some of the adventures that Mary and the kids go on here.  I know how she arrives and leaves are directly taken from the books, and I love that.  Not that it matters one way or the other, I just find it interesting.

As much as I enjoyed the movie, lets get my complaint out of the ways first.  This movie follows the pattern of the first one almost to a T.  Oh, the particulars are different, but we get similar adventures in a similar order.  Then again, I have a feeling the books were like that as well.  (Which is one reason I suspect they took chapters from later books and used them here.)  Now, this isn't the first time that a movie has done something like this.  (The Force Awakens, I'm looking directly at you, but many sequels are like this.)  However, this movie just felt rushed to me.  It was like they knew they had these tent pole scenes to get to, and they rushed the connecting scenes as a result.  Unfortunately, it's those connecting scenes that held the majority of the plot and some of the character development.

Now, that isn't to say I wasn't having fun.  I laughed throughout the movie, and I definitely felt tears well up a couple of times.  (If Michael's song earlier on doesn't get to you, you have no heart.)  There are some very fun nods to the original that will please any fan of the original.  That includes a cameo by original stars Dick van Dyke and Karen Dotrice.  It's easy to see what scene they had in mind for a cameo by Julie Andrews as well.  While the actress they got to play the part is still a wonderful wink and nod choice (and I'm a fan of the actress, don’t get me wrong), it made me wish that Julie Andrews had agreed to be part of it.

The songs don't quite live up to the songs from the original.  I have a feeling I will grow to love some of them over time, and I know I'm not being fair since they had huge shoes to fill.  I will say that I definitely enjoyed the dancing that went along with the songs.

The cast is all obviously having fun, and that comes through for us.  They were great in their parts and helped pull me into the story.  My hat is especially off to Emily Blunt who channels enough Julie Andrews to make it feel like the same character while adding a bit more of the prim and proper attitude that the character has in the books.  I was especially impressed with her performance.

One thing this movie has over the original is the effects, but that's hardly a surprise.  What was impressive 50 years ago looks dated today, right?  It's hard not to believe everything we see happening before us on the screen.  Who knows, maybe Mary's magic is real.

And they have a scene with real, hand drawn animation.  It's nice to see that art form pop up again in this age of all computer animation all the time.  (I would love to see both regularly.)

While this movie did film outside instead of all in sound stages like the original, they still capture that look.  Visually, even the live action feels like we are returning to a world we've visited before.

Ultimately, Mary Poppins Returns captures enough nostalgia to work.  Despite my reservations, I am looking forward to watching it again.

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