Disney knows what works: Give people exactly what they want with no risks involved.
Look at the success of its crop of live-action remakes like “Beauty and The Beast” and “Cinderella.” They made minimal changes to the animated versions and generated a ton of money.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is kind of like that — a sort-of sequel to the 1964 original that copies it almost beat by beat as to not alienate fans of the Julie Andrews vehicle. Save for a few dazzling numbers and added raps, nothing new happens and very little is gained from it.
Directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Into The Woods”), “Returns” exists to please fans of “Poppins” looking for another adventure with the P.L. Travers character and as an update of what happened to the Banks children.
The problem is neither has a story that’s particularly interesting.
Taking place in 1930s Depression-era London, the grown-up Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) Banks are struggling to keep up with payments on the house in which they grew up.
For Michael, a widower, the world is far from one that is practically perfect in every way. He’s struggling to both feed his three children, Georgie, Anabel and John, and pay the mortgage. With the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank’s shady president, William “Weatherall” Wilkins (Colin Firth), setting a deadline for a payment before the house goes into foreclosure, the Banks family must find documents needed to keep their beloved home.
That’s when a kite flies up in the sky and Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) comes down to watch the Banks children. While Michael struggles, she distracts the kids with fantastical journeys of song and dance through animated wonderlands.
Aided by Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a Dick Van Dyke-like lamplighter, “Poppins” comes to life during big, brassy musical set pieces like “Can You Imagine That?” and the hand-drawn animated spectacle of “A Cover Is Not The Book.”
The problem: Those musical numbers account for about half hour of the movie. It still has two hours to fill.
And aimlessly fill it does, with an unnecessary cameo in the middle of the film (There are two good ones in the movie’s third act), some lengthy scenes of exposition and zero character development.
You get the sense the movie hopes it can skate by on nostalgia rather than devote time to crafting characters anyone cares about.
Saddled with the daunting task of reprising Julie Andrews’ role as Poppins, Blunt does a fun, admirable job as she shows off her musical theater roots. For the most part, the movie doesn’t know what to do with the character. For all the yelling of “It’s Mary Poppins!” every time she comes into frame, it gets to the point where you want someone to say “Wait, why is she so celebrated?”
Miranda injects some warmth and energy into what feels like a fairly cold, calculated nostalgia machine. But very little of it has the charm and vigor of the original.
So yes, Mary Poppins does return and likely will appease longtime fans. But its lack of ambition will leave casual viewers wondering what the big deal was with her in the first place.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live