Editor’s note: The following piece was contributed by Beth Dunston: Librarian, book critic and begrudging sister to Camerman Daniel. She might not know sports but she knows Mary Poppins. Enjoy!
Mary Poppins Returns is a movie that was probably written by a committee in a Disney office tower, but boy did that committee have a blast. The film will tap into your nostalgia with scenes directly inspired by iconic moments from the 1964 classic, but it will also entertain younger generations with a more action-packed plot, a sinister villain, and a CGI upgrade.
In Returns, Michael, the little boy from the original movie is a recent widower facing financial trouble while raising three kids of his own with some help from his sister Jane. Into this doom and gloom swoops Mary Poppins, here to help teach the kids (and their now-adult counterparts) to have fun and use their imaginations to process their very real anxieties. This in itself is a great lesson – life is hard, and sometimes people, especially kids, need a little bit of magic just to get through the day. Mary Poppins accomplishes this, of course, through magical shenanigans, colorful feasts for your eyeballs, and catchy musical numbers. The songs themselves are all delightful earworms and the cast performs them with infectious delight. An early scene (shown in the trailer) involving a trip through an enchanted bathtub is particularly wonderful.
Disney clearly adores the original film’s ground-breaking set pieces, but it also doesn’t trust them to hold a modern audience’s attention. This means there are a few awkwardly-inserted action scenes, one of which might be a little scary for younger children. But truth be told, no one, child or adult, in my theater ever cheered or laughed out loud at scenes that were clearly supposed to generate those reactions, and, while it’s fun, I’m not sure the movie will succeed in being a modern classic, or even memorable. Furthermore, these action-packed scenes and a more adult-centered conflict sometimes work against the film’s charming musical numbers, making the story feel a little unfocused, overlong, and cluttered, to the point that it will test both you and your kids’ patience (and bladders). A scene involving Meryl Streep becomes particularly tiresome very quickly.
The film’s minor flaws are balanced out by Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who shine throughout the movie. Blunt in particular is electric, channeling Julie Andrews in a performance that feels just as larger-than-life as the character she’s playing. Miranda is having a blast as Jack, a stand-in for Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep Bert. The pair’s chemistry crackles across the screen, making their duets a delight.
For better or worse, Returns has it all – action, romance, comedy, social commentary – even subtle sex jokes (Don’t worry, they’ll all go over your kids’ heads.)! Ultimately, this attempt to make every fan happy collapses under its own weight. You (and your kids) will likely still have a great time singing along to the songs, and there’s certainly a lot to enjoy. It’s just like a holiday candy bar: a fun and sweet treat that will leave you feeling vaguely unsatisfied. It’s not necessarily a must-see, but you ought to go if you’re a huge fan of the character or of the family musical genre. I rate this film 7 out of 10, and I rate Dick Van Dyke’s dance moves 10/10. That man’s still got it.