Jay Maidment/Disney/AP
'Mary Poppins Returns' stars (from l.) Lin-Manuel Miranda, Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson, Nathanael Saleh, and Emily Blunt.

'Mary Poppins Returns' is unmemorable but has moments of joy

( PG ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

Emily Blunt gives an edgy take on Mary Poppins, not quite as treacly as Julie Andrews was.

Fashioning a sequel to a beloved movie is almost always a losing proposition. Yes, there are glorious exceptions like “The Godfather: Part II," "Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back," and "Toy Story 3," but the list thins out appreciably after these.

"Mary Poppins Returns," which picks up more than 20 years after "Mary Poppins," is by no means a failure. It’s well crafted, well acted, and features some terrific live-action/animation combos. But it never quite achieves liftoff, which is a big problem for a musical – especially this musical.

The setting is London during the “Great Slump” – i.e., the Depression. The Banks children of the first film are grown-up now: Michael (Ben Whishaw), who works in a bank, is recently widowed; his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), who lives nearby, is a labor organizer. She, along with Ellen (Julie Walters), the cranky housekeeper, helps take care of Michael’s three children (played by Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) but clearly help is needed.

Enter Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins, alighting from the sky with bag and umbrella. As brisk and no-nonsense as ever, she eventually makes things right despite a looming crisis in which the Banks home will be repossessed for nonpayment of mortgage unless Michael can locate his father’s missing stock certificates.

Director Rob Marshall, screenwriter David Magee, and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who wrote the score, clearly admire the Julie Andrews-Dick Van Dyke original, so much so that they fashion their film along very similar lines. So, for example, the original movie had the musical number "Step in Time"; here it’s "Trip a Little Light Fantastic." That so many of the numbers in the new film involve Lin-Manuel Miranda as a lamplighter – a nod to Van Dyke’s chimney sweep – is all to the best, since he’s a first-rate song-and-dance man, even when cavorting in less than first-rate material. And I liked Blunt’s edgy take on Mary Poppins. She’s not quite as treacly as Julie Andrews was. (Heresy to say, I know.)

But I didn’t come out humming any of the songs, and even the more imaginative sequences, such as the one where Mary Poppins draws the children into a fantasy world spun off illustrations painted on pottery, didn’t really stay with me. Still, I suppose momentary joy is better than no joy at all, and there is a wonderful moment at the end when Van Dyke suddenly appears in a cameo chastising the scurvy bank manager (Colin Firth) and does a balletic leap onto a table. I cheered. Grade: B (Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'Mary Poppins Returns' is unmemorable but has moments of joy
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today