In 1964, Mary Poppins and Julie Andrews were ‘practically perfect in every way’ and while Emily Blunt tries her best, the original sets far too high a standard for Mary Poppins Returns to hope to achieve.
With Michael and Jane, the Banks children from the original film, all grown up, widower Michael is having difficulties making ends meet in the old house on Cherry Tree Lane and taking care of his own three children: Anabel, John, and Georgie. As the house comes under threat of repossession by the very bank his father worked for, a gust of wind brings Mary Poppins back into their lives.
Rather than take the original as a jumping off point for some new ‘stuff and nonsense’, as with Disney's bonkers Christopher Robin with Ewan McGregor, director Marshall seems to have taken the original as a blueprint to be slavishly followed.
There's a song to introduce Mary to the children, a 2D animation sequence, the visit to one of Mary's bizarre relatives (Meryl Streep!) and a getting lost in London sequence. The new film even replicates the staginess of Step in Time with chimney sweeps replaced by BMX-biking lamplighters.
Using instrumental versions of the songs from the first film, in-between musical numbers also works against the sequel as it just goes to remind you how good those songs are. The presence of Lin Manuel Miranda, jokey English accent and all, also brings to mind just you how much more memorable the songs from Moana were. One standout is the heartbreaking, almost spoken word A Conversation, with Ben Wishaw conversing with his dead wife, but that's hardly the take away you want from a Poppins movie.
Where Andrews was stern with a sense of fun underneath, Blunt's Poppins comes off as permanently haughty. Even after she dons a bobbed wig, in a possible nod to Marshall's own Chicago, and lets rip with a ‘cockerney’ accent, there's a stiffness to her Mary Poppins that never really melts away.
On the other hand Julie Waters and Colin Firth are hugely entertaining. Meryl Streep's turn as cousin Topsy is just plain weird, and not in a good way.
This lack of a magic only really dissipates in the last 20 minutes, after the unsatisfying plot is wrapped up (the location of the share certificate required to save the Banks' house is obvious from early on) when Dick Van Dyke makes his expected but delightful cameo. A sequence with balloons, Angela Lansbury(!) and most of the cast is truly delightful but doesn't involve Mary and marks her exit from the film with no emotional send off for either generations of Banks children or the audience.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: ROB MARSHALL / SCREENPLAY: DAVID MAGEE, ROB MARSHALL, JOHN DELUCA / STARRING: EMILY BLUNT, EMILY MORTIMER, BEN WHISHAW, LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, PIXIE DAVIES, NATHANAEL SALEH, JOEL DAWSON COLIN FIRTH, JULIE WALTERS / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 21ST
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10