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Mary Poppins Returns
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Poppins Awakens"
2 stars

Watching “Mary Poppins Returns” is a lot like sitting down to a lavish holiday meal consisting entirely of only the biggest, sweetest and gooiest desserts imaginable. The whole thing appears to be festive as all get out and the first couple of bites provide the kind of giddy sugar rush that brings you back to your childhood and leaves you mentally ready to gobble the whole thing down and then come back for seconds. As you continue to eat it, however, that rush soon dissipates and the whole thing turns into little more than an increasingly indigestible glop and by the time the final bite is choked down, you stagger away from it woozy and cranky and never wanting to even look at anything vaguely sweet as long as you live. The film has a few undeniable charms here and there but they are too often buried under mounds of corporate-driven whimsey and even at its best, it never comes close to emulating the charms that made the 1964 original such a classic for generations of moviegoers young and old.

Set in the 1930s, a period when London was in the midst of an economic downturn, the film opens with the now-grown Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) in possession of both three adorable moppets of his own—Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson)—as well as a raft of personal problems. A struggling artist who has taken a job as a teller in the very same bank where his father once worked, he and his kids are still reeling from the recent death of their beloved wife/mother and while his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), who is now an advocate for worker’s rights, helps out as much as she can, he is barely keeping his head above water. Potential disaster arrives when the bank—the very same one he works for—demands repayment for a sizable loan he took out in five days time or they will be forced to repossess the Banks family home. Of course, the bank shares that Michael’s dad acquired for him years earlier would take care of the debt but neither Michael and Jane nor Michael’s seemingly helpful boss, William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) can find any trace that those shares ever existed.

Clearly this is a household in need of industrial-sized doses of enchantment and it arrives in style when Georgie flies a ragged kite high into the sky and brings down none other than Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) herself. She goes back to the Banks home, much to the astonishment of Michael and Jane, who remember her, if not the specifics of their magical adventures. As for the new generation of Banks children, they insist that they are self-sufficient enough to not require a nanny but it is only a matter of time before her tart nature and propensity for making magic out of the most mundane situations has them throughly enchanted. Bath time, for example, turns into an elaborate undersea ballet while a chipped bowl belonging to their beloved mother leads to them, along with lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), being transported into the illustrated world depicted on its side. While all of this is going on, the time to eviction grows near and Michael grows sharper and harsher with his children as a result. Are the Banks’s doomed or is there even the slightest possibility that something will come up at the last minute that will save the day and end up giving everyone pretty much exactly what they deserve? If you have trouble answering that question while watching the film, ask the nearest small child because I can guarantee that they will be able to figure it out.

In many ways, the film that is closest in tone to “Mary Poppins Returns” that I can think of is “The Force Awakens”—while both are ostensibly sequels, they also serve as de facto remakes of their respective originals in which most of the big moments and character beats of the earlier films are brought back into play. In the case of “The Force Awakens,” that approach worked because it not only reminded generations of moviegoers of what “Star Wars” once represented before the brand was tarnished by those less-than-inspiring prequels but also helped to clear the decks for the series to finally move off in new directions (which it did to brilliant effect with “The Last Jedi”). Here, there is hardly a scene or song that does not have its roots in something seen or heard in the original, from the big centerpiece scene combining live action and animation (right down to the penguin waiters) to the sequence where the kids float up to the ceiling in order to have tea rejiggered into a visit to the repair shop of Mary’s Aunt Topsy (Meryl Streep, in one of the hammiest turns of her career) to fix that blasted bowl, only to discover that they have arrived on the one day of the month where the store turns upside down. Unfortunately, while director Rob Marshall has done a good job of making a film that looks and feels as if it could have been made right around the time that the first “Mary Poppins” was produced (right down to sticking with traditional animation for the central set piece instead of trying to goose it up with elaborate computer wizardry), there is not a single one of the countless echoes on display here that improves on what has been seen before—the songs are tuneful but not especially memorable, the production numbers are elaborate without being much fun and the life lessons are homey but overly familiar. Marshall is clearly trying to evoke nostalgia for the original but at a certain point, that feeling curdles into a relentless sense of deja vu that may leave even little kids impatient for something new.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about “Mary Poppins Returns” is the way that it takes its greatest asset and inexplicably proceeds to squander it as it goes on. This would be the performance of Emily Blunt, who takes on the extremely unenviable task of stepping into the role that made Julie Andrews an international star and won her an Oscar. She is quite good in the part and, unlike the surrounding film, she takes our memories of Andrews’s take on the role and, instead of simply copying every single thing that she did, builds upon it in ways that evoke her predecessor while at the same time allowing her to make the part her own. However, as the story progresses and becomes consumed with such matters as the bank’s impending foreclosure on the Banks home and Jane being quietly wooed by Jack, who has had a crush on her since they were children, Mary finds herself oddly shunted away to the background and too often finds herself as little more than a bystander in the films that bears her name rather than any sort of driving force.

As for the others in the case, they are all aggressively bright and cheerful and while none of them are especially bad (though the aforementioned Streep cameo comes close), they too often feel like actors who are close to the end of their run in some garish holiday pageant and are running more on fumes than genuine inspiration. The film even makes room at the very end for (Sort-Of Spoiler Alert) cameo appearances from Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury (the latter in a part that was apparently originally conceived for Julie Andrews, who ended up passing on it) and while it is fun to see them (the former busts out a little dance that is one of the few genuinely lively moments to be had), you get the feeling that the filmmakers stuck them in at the very end in a last-ditch effort to shame those who are feeling less than enthusiastic about the rest of the film into leaving the theater with a happy face.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is a film that goes to extraordinary lengths to recreate memories of its beloved predecessor but has no idea of how to conjure up the kind of magic that made that film so memorable in the first place. The script is a hollow compilation of retreads of things that have been seen before lashed together with plot elements that are introduced with great fanfare and then end up being all but forgotten (we never do find out if that damn bowl gets fixed) and while the songs will no doubt stick in your head for days to come, there is little genuine pleasure to be derived from any of them. As a film that parents can safely take their kids to as a way of getting out of the house for a couple of hours over Christmas break, I suppose it more or less gets the job done but that is all it does. The original film, although certainly not without its flaws, had an undeniable magic to it that can enchant even the most cynical of viewers, regardless of age. “Mary Poppins Returns,” on the other hand, feels more like a product designed to sell a lot of toys and soundtrack CDs that a delivery system for wonder and delight and while I have no doubt that it will become a huge financial success, viewers of subsequent generations will continue to stick with the original and dismiss this followup as little more than an odd and ultimately unsuccessful variation that knows the words of the original, so to speak, but not the music.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=30335&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/18/18 12:40:35
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User Comments

12/21/18 Bob Dog Very old school musical is just okay as a movie. 3 stars
12/18/18 Louise 100 times better than the 1964 movie, so charming and magical from beginning to end. 5 stars
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  DVD: 19-Mar-2019


  DVD: 19-Mar-2019

Directed by
  Rob Marshall

Written by
  David Magee

  Emily Blunt
  Meryl Streep
  Angela Lansbury
  Colin Firth
  Dick Van Dyke
  Emily Mortimer

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