Mary Poppins Returns is practically perfect in every way. It looks wonderful, whimsical, fanciful, a dreamscape. The animated sequences are next-level. The choreography is lively and polished. The costuming, by genius Sandy Powell, makes me tremble, its candy colours and hand-painted detailing an absolute riot. It’s wearable happiness.
And the cast. The cast! Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer play Michael and Jane Banks, the original kids from the first Mary Poppins, all grown up. Julie Walters tinkers in the kitchen as the hard-working maid, Ellen. Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack, the effervescent but largely ineffective lamp lighter (he might light 3 lamps total during the course of a 2 hour movie because his song and dance breaks are so frequent; the lamp lighter’s union must be fabulous). Together, they’re already a dream cast, but then director Rob Marshall plunks down Emily Blunt as the iconic nanny, Mary Poppins. Ho-lee shit. I mean, every ounce of credit to Julie Andrews, but since she’s vacated the seat, Emily Blunt is absolutely the perfect choice to carry the carpet bag. Anyone else in the role is simply unimaginable. And Colin Firth and Meryl Streep are BONUSES? Ex-squeeze me? Pure casting heaven.
But here’s the deal: despite there not being a single smudge dirtying up the glass, the magic just wasn’t there for me. I wanted to love this movie. Maybe I wanted it too much. It has all the right ingredients, but the pinch of disappointment is all I can taste.
Michael Banks is in a spot of trouble. His wife died a year ago, leaving him in charge of the house and the kids. All are neglected. His adorable children aren’t just raising themselves, they’re taking care of him too. Just about the only thing they can’t do is save the house from foreclosure. Michael and Jane can’t do it either – neither has any money. Where or where are those stock certificates their father left them? They’ve only got a few days to save their family home from the evil banker, Colin Firth. Cue Mary Poppins. Nominally, she’s taking care of the children, but I think her main ambition is just to allow them to be children again. And ideally, force Michael to act like the father again. So that’s the plot, and then we continually interrupt the plot to do some wild Mary Poppins shenanigans. The dancy, singy, cartoony musical numbers are incredible, or they would be if the songs weren’t so negligible, but they grind the plot to a halt and don’t relate to the rest of the movie at all. It’s not cohesive; I feel like I was watching two different movies, part depression-era family tragedy, part nostalgic stuff and nonsense. There are some wonderful call-backs to the original film, but I feel like Mary Poppins returns relies too heavily on its predecessor and our forgiveness. I wanted so badly to be carried away by this, but I remained firmly in my seat, butt against leather, popcorn in the cracks (of the recliner, not my ass). Translation: perfectly ordinary in every way.