It’s uneven, sadly. Some things brilliant: the three Banks’ children. They look and act to perfection with their skinny Depression era bodies and sweet faces. Some kids can act. So many can’t. Some things don’t work, like Ben Wishaw, (voice of Paddington Bear), the grown up Michael Banks from the first movie. It’s not a movie about him, it’s about Mary Poppins, and he has way too many scenes, and he’s too sad, and too rumpled looking. The relationship with his sister Jane is boring, and again, isn’t this a story about Mary Poppins and the new Banks’ children.
I hated yes hated Disney’s recent Winnie the Pooh movie, “Christopher Robin” because the scenes were lit with that grey brown sepia lighting that makes one feel sad. I know they’re trying to show that things are old, but, this is a kids’ story and it’s supposed to be cheery. So turn on the lights! Mary Poppins wasn’t quite as dark, thankfully, but the scenes in the house/attic/streets; 5/6ths of the movie, was always grey/foggy/dim. Disney, fire your lighting artist! The sets in Mary Poppins Returns were charming: warm and brighten the lighting so the audience can enjoy them.
The story (writing) rambles from retread scenes of the first movie to adult themes that are too serious. In the first film, the serious theme is that the dad is not paying enough attention to his kids. Okay, even in a kids’ story needs some conflict. In Mary Poppins Returns, Mrs. Banks has died. She’s dead. She’s not coming back. How will they resolve that one? I was wondering if Mr. Banks was going to marry Mary Poppins. No, that would be kind of creepy because she’s old enough to be his nanny. At the end, one of Michael Banks kids tells his dad that seeing his wife’s face in his is ‘enough.’ Yikes. So that doesn’t resolve. Second story line, the Banks’ family is losing their house. More resolvable but heavy. Slow opening scenes of dad Michael and his sister Jane struggling with this drag. They’re broke and going to be living on the street.
Where’s Mary Poppins! Where’s the fun?! The animated sequences were fun. London street scenes were fun. The music was surprisingly singable and fun. Lin Manuel Miranda sparkles as ‘Jack,’ Mary Poppin’s lamplighter friend.
Emily Blount’s problem as Mary Poppins is, she has too much screen competition, what with the darling three Banks kids, Lin Manuel, and then Julie Waters as the cook, and Colin Firth, and Meryl Streep as cousin Turvey. She plays Mary a bit more stern than confident. I admit I’m comparing her to Julie Andrews who captured Mary perfectly. But again, Emily wasn’t on the screen enough for me to get to know her portrayal.
Go and take your kids, you’ll probably enjoy it. The theatre was full of grandparents like me, and many clapped at the end.