Mary Poppins Returns, in theatres December 19th, starts with the song “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” sung by the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, playing Jack, a lamplighter in Britain during the Great Depression. Then we are quickly introduced to the busy household of the grown-up Michael and Jane from the original 1964 Mary Poppins. Michael’s wife died a year earlier, so Jane is helping to raise the kids. Things are chaotic and unstable, and the adults are distracted by the possibility of losing the house because of some important documents that are lost. So Mary Poppins appears, played by Emily Blunt and ready to get to business attending to the kids. Spit spot!
The rest of the movie is quite the ride that bounces between reality and fantasy – as does the original – but with a lot more speed, distraction, and hyperactivity. There are so many visuals, so many effects, such busyness – it’s a fast-paced nostalgic ride on steroids.
I’m still recovering from my “high” seeing the new Mary Poppins Returns this week. I expected excitement and special effects galore, and I was certainly entertained, but I was also a bit exhausted.
First, Mary Poppins barely settles in before insisting on giving the kids a bath (can’t they get acquainted first?). But that turns out to be no bath but a fast but magical journey to an undersea world.
At another point, Mary, Jack and the kids travel to another world inside a china bowl, where Poppins and Jack do an impressive stage performance for a full audience of animated animals. This is where we hear songs with too many words like “A Cover Is Not the Book,” though the singing and dancing talents of Miranda and Blunt are quite impressive.
Later, the gang visit a quirky and colorful Topsy, played by Meryl Streep. Topsy’s world turns upside down on the second Wednesday of the month, which it is, of course, and she sings a song called “Turning Turtle” (another tiring song with too many words).
There are more songs, like “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” which Mary sings to the kids, to comfort them as they miss their mom, which has a few touching moments, and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” sung by Jack and the other lamplighters much like “Step in Time” was sung by Bert and the other chimney sweepers in the original Mary Poppins, but without the catchy rhythm.
While the movie was quite a sight to see and the visuals were well-done, Mary Poppins was not very likable. Her character was so detached and controlling, even seemingly a bit conceited at times – though she was originally written to be very stern by Pamela Lyndon Travers, author of the Poppins’ book series. Travers actually fought Walt Disney himself for 14 years before giving him the rights to make the 1964 film. It was actually bold of the Disney company to make this sequel, and they legally had no wiggle room to soften Poppins’ character.
Regarding Emily Blunt’s performance, she was quick and accurate, but nobody can compare to Julie Andrews. To me, Emily Blunt played an even colder Mary Poppins than did Julie Andrews. Blunt’s sassy tone became annoying shortly into the movie, but everyone loved her, including the kids. And she did seem smart and insightful. Perhaps women should try to emulate Poppins to get what they want? Well, there was a bit of “girl power” in the film. As Jack says at one point, “One thing you should know about Mary Poppins. She never explains anything.” Jack was right but seemed like Mary’s friendly sidekick – everything she couldn’t be. His character in this film was delightful and cheerful, and always there, just like Bert in the original story.
How about the grown-up Michael and Jane? Ben Whishaw plays Michael, and Emily Mortimer plays Jane, and they both capture their childhood characters’ personalities well. If you’ve seen the Paddington movies, you’ll immediately recognize Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington, the bear. I kept thinking of Paddington throughout the movie as his voice is so distinct!
There were some funny moments in the film, and everything was done very well. And my kids liked it, especially my 10-year-old daughter., She said it was “awesome,” and she especially enjoyed the dancing and all the magic (which of course, was scattered throughout the movie). I think it’s worth seeing once for the experience, and for the guest appearances that Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury make at the end. It was definitely satisfying to see them both (though I wish Julie Andrews herself had been in it somewhere – I heard though that Angela Lansbury’s role was supposed to be hers).
Overall, I think it’s a good movie to see with the family, and the songs are nice, but the movie is so fast-paced and much of it is overstimulating and forgettable, so for me, once was enough. It’s 2 hours and 12 minutes long and rated PG, which surprises me since I don’t think there was anything concerning about the movie, but as I think I’ve said before, I’m pretty sure movies get rated PG to get older kids in the theater (as if G-rated movies are just for little kids). Or maybe it’s to protect Disney from anything that freaks out a little kid, which I didn’t there was in this movie.
My star rating? I’d give Mary Poppins Returns a 3 out of 5 stars. I grew up as a Disney purist – seeing and loving all the classic Disney movies (my dad collected and owned them all) – so I know what Disney can do. This wasn’t the best that Disney can do. But I know Disney has to please today’s audience now, and if you judge this movie on it being created for that, then today’s audience craves stimulation over substance, spectacle over connection, and speed over depth. If you get bored easily, you won’t get bored with this movie. It moves things along so fast you won’t even know everything that just happened, but you’ll go along with it anyway, because it’s fun.
Free Printable Activity Packet
I am excited to share a FREE activity packet with coloring pages, a maze, bookmarks and more that you can print! Click on the image below or on the link here. It will open in a separate window as a 14-page PDF.
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MARY POPPINS RETURNS arrives in theatres everywhere on December 19th!