It took over 50 years, but this Disney classic finally got a sequel. Is it a Toy Story level sequel that easily stands beside or above the original, is it a direct to video cash grab quality sequel that never should have been made, or is it something in between?
Cast and Crew Information
Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack
Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks
Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks
Pixie Davies as Anabel
Nathanael Saleh as John
Joel Dawson as Georgie
Julie Walkters as Ellen
Meryl Streep as Topsy
Colin Firth as Wilkins
Jeremy Swift as Gooding
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Frye
David Warner as Admiral Boom
Cameo appearances by Dick van Dyke and Angela Lansbury as characters best left unrevealed until they appear on screen.
Original novels by P.L. Travers
Screen story by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca
Screenplay by David Magee
Directed by Rob Marshall
30 years after the events of the original film, the Great Depression (known as the Great Slump in the United Kingdom) is in full force, and Michael Banks will need some rather spectacular help to keep possession of the family home.
The original film could get pretty dark at times, and this doesn’t shy away from that. Sure, there are fun scenes of wonder, but the Banks family is in a pretty dark place at the start of both films, and that’s embraced here just as much as it was the first time. They really nailed the spirit and tone of the original.
The worst thing associated with this is the marketing revealing the cameos. It would have been a preferable experience had they been the surprises that the script and structure seems to have intended them to be.
That said, the filmmakers are rarely in charge of the marketing, so picking a low point based on what they actually could control, I’d have to go with the very strict parallelism to the story structure and beats of the original. This features Force Awakens levels of echoes in the structure and plot, but this didn’t have three lackluster live actions prequels and a video game demo disguised as an animated prequel to a prequel released in between, so there isn’t the comfort of seeing a return to form to cushion the decision as that other Disney franchise had. (For the record, the Clone Wars movie did, ultimately, launch a pretty fantastic TV series, but that original movie has all the structure of a video game.)
There are original sequences here. Sure, the overall plot is very similar in structure, but the specific execution consistently finds a similar yet new way to get the job done. I give it 4 out of 6.
The effects were great. With the exception of a 93 year old man’s head onto a younger man’s body, it was seamless. That said, it also appeared to be the 93 year old’s current voice, but the head was actually his 39 year old head with old age makeup attached for reasons that make sense in context, so it’s not like it’s easy to make that seamless when he’s singing and dancing. Other effects appear to have been consciously designed to use the old technology to keep the sequel consistent in tone with the original, so it’s easy to overlook the stiffness of the motion in that context. I give it 5 out of 6.
The story is well told and structured, with musical numbers that move the plot along. Like the original, it could have been broken into a classic movie serial, but there is only one functional sequence to the chapters as each adventure serves to teach at least one member of the Banks family a new lesson. I give it 5 out of 6.
The acting is good. Capable child actors are tough to come by, and these three do it well. Emily Blunt carries the Julie Andrews torch well enough, and Lin-Manuel Miranda works very well as a substitute for Bert. The returning characters were all cast more for their acting talent than for their physical similarity to the originals, which serves the story well enough. I give it 5 out of 6.
The production is good. The pacing is consistent with the original, the musical numbers are top notch, and it really does feel like a sequel rather than a reboot. I give it 5 out of 6.
The emotional response is, somehow, less than it should be. The original still puts a smile on my face every time, but this one feels almost like it’s working too hard to echo the original, right down to incorporating the musical cues in its score. Had there been missteps in between that wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Here, it just feels lesser, and it also means I started to anticipate the emotional journey 20 to 30 minutes ahead of the film’s execution because it’s the same path, which undercut the effectiveness because I was thinking “I knew that was coming” instead of “oh no, how will they deal with that” at each turn. By the time the events actually came to pass, I was guessing plots points in the next half hour that would map the same journey, and got nearly all of them right. Predictability on the first watch is very rarely a good thing. I give it 3 out of 6.
Overall, it’s perfectly entertaining, and sure to be welcome by fans. If you are thinking of going, go. The trailers are representative enough that, if they don’t interest you, the finished product is unlikely to change your mind. I give it 4 out of 6.
In total, Mary Poppins Returns receives 31 out of 42.