Mary Poppins Returns movie review: Same magic or lazy rehash?

Mary Poppins Returns photo via WD Media File
Mary Poppins Returns photo via WD Media File /

The long-awaited sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, contains all the familiar magic and wonder of the original. But does the sequel borrow too much from its classic predecessor?

Most of our childhoods consisted of films with catchphrases and jingles that we carried on to one generation to the next. Of all the Disney jingles nothing was more fun and challenging to say as a child than “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Just like most kids, I probably annoyed my family trying to repeat the chorus over and over. Between that song and “Spoonful of Sugar” the original Mary Poppins undoubtedly became a staple of my childhood.

So when the news broke that a sequel with Emily Blunt as the lead was being made– shockingly, I did not flinch. One could easily envision her as the delightful magical nanny who enchants children. Still, she had major shoes to fill taking a role that was made so iconic by Julie Andrews.

And yet, somehow Emily Blunt makes it look so easy. She literally feels born for this role.

The new film takes place decades after the original and siblings Jack and Jane Banks are all grown up. Jack has three kids now and is living in the same house that belonged to his mother and father from the first film. Jack also is a widow with him now being a single father due to his wife’s passing.

And to make matters worse, his house is now being repossessed by the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank– same bank his dad worked for. But just like the original, Mary Poppins arrives to turn the Banks family’s world into joy with her whimsical spirit and mysterious magic.

Mary Poppins Returns photo via WD Media File
Mary Poppins Returns photo via WD Media File /

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Being a sequel to a legendary Hollywood classic, it does a lot right as far as living up to the original. Just like the 1964 film, the production design of this movie is spectacular. The sets and the entire look of the London setting have all the same visual craft that made the first feel so vibrant and alive. It will not be a shock if the film gets an Oscar nod in the category next month. The same goes for costume design and cinematography. It’s definitely a beautiful looking film.

The film also is an auditorial splendor with an excellent score from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, as well as solid musical numbers that make the film seamlessly compliment the first film. The only aspect that’s difficult to decipher is whether the musical numbers are as memorable or iconic as the original.

From recollection, nothing stuck out as much as the catchiness of songs like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or even Dick Van Dyke’s classic number of “Chim Chimney.” To be fair though, the original has 50 plus years of television and theatrical replays to stick in audiences minds, so this could change with repeated viewings.

Mary Poppins Returns photo via WD Media File
Mary Poppins Returns photo via WD Media File /

The characteristic which will bother some viewers is how formulaic the movie feels. The script takes some liberties on the exterior (beginning and ending) but most of the middle section of Mary Poppins Returns follows closely to the structure of its original almost beat-for-beat. Having revisited the 1964 movie just days before made this problem only stick out more.

The whole time watching I kept saying, “Here comes the animated scene,” “Here comes the scene where they meet an odd character in their home,” and “Here comes the section where the men do a musical dance number.” And all these sequences occur in the same order as the first film.

This made the experience less surprising and hindered the engagement with the story. The musical portions were still fun but doing this made the material feel too familiar and not as exciting.

Even some of the characters were carbon copy archetypes of the first movie. For example, Lin-Manuel Miranda basically played the same type of character as Van Dyke’s character Bert from the 1964 film. Meryl Streep is rehashing the same archetype as Uncle Albert but here she is Cousin Topsy. Colin Firth as Wilkins has the same slimy banker routine that was present with the character Mr. Dawes. It resulted in a film that is trying to play it safe but does so at the expense of keeping the same spontaneity.

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Despite all of this, Mary Poppins Returns is still remarkably beautiful and entertaining. The characters may lack a fresh quality but the performances are top notch. Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda carry the film just as brilliantly as Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke did in the original.

While the all too familiar nature of the screenplay might bother some viewers, most general audiences probably will not care or even notice. At its core, it’s a fun film that will delight audiences all throughout the Christmas holiday.

Mary Poppins Returns is in theaters now.