Mary Poppins has been a classic ever since it was brought into the world through P.L. Travers’ book series in 1934, followed by Walt Disney’s film adaptation. The 1964 film was very successful, winning five academy awards and becoming the highest grossing film of the year. With the film carrying such popularity, filmmakers though to put out a sequel. On December 19, 2018, “Mary Poppins Returns” debuted in theatres all over the US. Despite the excitement surrounding the follow up film, questions have been raised as to if the sequel can match the classic.
The story follows the lives of now-grown Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw). The two follow in their parents footsteps, with Jane being an activist and Michael working at the bank. Michael continues to live in the house that belonged to his parents where he raises his children, Annabel, John and George Banks (Joel Dawson, Nathanael Saleh and Pixie Davies), alone due to his wife’s death. As certain conflicts arise, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to aid the Banks family. Holding true to the original, Mary Poppins, the kids go on magical adventures along with lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda).
Mary Poppins Returns is full of references from the first movie. All the hidden and obvious details brought on a lot of nostalgia. It was especially exciting to see Dick Van Dyke’s guest appearance. While all this is good, it came to a point at which the general plot and characters basically matched the first film. The storyline was almost an exact replica of Disney’s original Mary Poppins. The only difference was a slight variation in conflict. One could say the details differed, but like the plot, only slightly. Each character is basically a doppelgänger of the original cast. The songs were decent musical numbers, but it also felt like they were trying too hard to mirror the original film. A number sung by Jack and the leeries called “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” was supposed to be the newer version of the famous “Step in Time.” While the song was decent, no song could ever compare to “Step in Time,” and this goes for almost all other songs when compared to their original counterparts.
Some may believe mimicking the original is vital to keeping the magic and mystery that was the original film. While this is true to a certain extent, here it was overdone. It felt like I was watching a cheesier remake of the first movie.One particular scene that I didn’t mind them bringing back however was the 2D animation chalk scene found in the original Mary Poppins, which came out better than before. Today’s new technology combined with the calling in of the original animators of the movie allowed for a truly amazing scene. The scene was colorful, detailed, and evoked a real feeling of nostalgia.
Another observation regarding the animated scene is the costume design. According to costume designer Sandy Powell, she wanted to do something new and unique for this scene. She felt that the characters in the original didn’t blend well with the scene, and wanted a better blend. Powell came up with the genius idea of painting the costumes. Although it took a lot of work, I believe it was well worth it. The costumes were colorful and blended well with the scene while also contrasting enough to allow the characters to stand out.
I was a bit worried for Emily Blunt, wondering how she was going to pull off the timeless role of Mary Poppins. After watching the film, I believe she did her best. Blunt did maintain the essence of the original Mary Poppins while adding a few things of her own. For one, she added a slight snarkiness to the character. While it made the film slightly more comedic, it also took away from the amiable nature of Mary Poppins. While some may prefer this, I was saddened because as a kid, I always saw Mary Poppins as a kindly, motherly figure and seeing her change was painful. Despite this, Blunt still did very well playing Mary Poppins as it is a very hard role to live up to.
On its own, the movie was average. It didn’t stand out as exceptional, but wasn’t completely terrible despite it being a bit underwhelming. I didn’t have extremely high expectations in the first place, but I did have a small hope that this sequel would not be as bad as most sequels are. I would recommend seeing the movie if you are feeling nostalgic. However, I wouldn’t set my expectations too high, unless you are new to Mary Poppins altogether.