First and foremost, I want to sincerely thank Disney and That Hashtag Show for the opportunity to attend the Press Screening of Mary Poppins Returns. It’s intriguing that Disney would make the decision to make a direct sequel to the 1964 classic film that is honestly irreplaceable. Regardless of your personal feelings for Mary Poppins or even whether or not you like musicals, there’s no denying its place in film and pop culture history. Young Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke have chemistry, singing, and dancing abilities that just defy reason and segue directly into the realm of magic.
Which makes it even more bold that Disney would even attempt Mary Poppins Returns fifty-four years later.
Despite its clear effort (and astounding looking environments), Mary Poppins Returns is not a good film. While watching the piece, which truthfully ran too long for my liking, the same words replayed in my head over and over again on loop:
Trite Fan Fiction with a Budget.
Because good lord, budget indeed.
So, before you purists and Disney lovers jump with your claws out, give me a chance to defend my position—in listicle form! Below are my top five reasons that Mary Poppins, in this case, did not need to Return.
**Warning, May Contain Accidental Revealed Plot Points. Spoilers is a big word since this movie didn’t do anything unique or original**
1) The Actual Narrative and Plot are Garbage
Simply put, the plot and narrative arc in Mary Poppins Returns is completely trite. Jane and Michael Banks are now adults. Michael has three children. His wife died last year. He took out a loan against his parents’ house in order to stay afloat (he’s an artist with a part time teller gig at the bank where Daddy George Banks was a partner). Now, the house is in Foreclosure against the hands of the grubby, slimy nephew of a now-elderly Dick Van Dyke (whose cameo is the best thing in the film). Thus, the point of the film is the Banks family trying to figure out how to find some certificate of bank shares and/or money to keep their family home.
What is this, The Goonies?! Are you freakin’ kidding me here? This is the best they could come up with? Mary Poppins, the magical nanny-witch-fairy only comes down from outer space when the Banks children are in trouble? Even Drop Dead Fred helped multiple kids with his imaginary friend antics. Are the Banks kids like the Skywalkers? Are they the only ones with enough Jedi Magic to summon Mary Poppins? What is happening here?
2) The Characters Themselves Are Rehashed and Weak
Something about the characters in Mary Poppins Returns didn’t quite sit right with me. Now, I know this is a Disney movie, and everything is sweet, innocent, and single noted. That’s their M.O. and I can accept that. But here’s what’s strange to me. Mary Poppins, the nanny that came out of the sky down to Jane and Michael Banks in their youth and more or less saved their family (remember, Dad was a workaholic, rigid, stick in the mud and Mom was a fighter for women’s suffrage who protested and spent a lot of time out of the house) has returned before their eyes…and they barely can be bothered to care. Michael makes one comment about Mary looking like she hasn’t aged. And really, it’s a joke so Mary can tell him it’s not proper to ask about a woman’s age.
At no point do Jane or Michael look at Mary with adult eyes. Be it with confusion, questioning, or even curious, possible attraction. Nothing. This movie is not Hook, the Robin Williams classic that questioned ‘What would happen if Peter Pan grew up?’ No, this is…painfully simple. Never once do Jane or Michael pull Mary Poppins aside and ask ‘Hey, what is life like wherever you’re from? Do you really make magical things happen? Why haven’t you aged? Why do you show up randomly when we’re about to break and nanny the Banks children?’ We don’t get anything that meaningful. Jane and Michael are semi-modern clones of their parents, living in the same 17 Cherry Tree Lane home, Michael working in the same bank, and Jane as working as a trouser-clad human rights protestor.
Moving on to Mary Poppins herself, there is no development. It’s Emily Blunt doing her best Julie Andrews impression. Granted, it’s a good one, with 10x more Smug included in her performance. But it felt like she had a gun to her head with some executive being like ‘Don’t…take…ANY…liberties, LADY.’ Alongside her, playing the role of ‘not Dick Van Dyke as Bert’ is Lin-Manuel Miranda as a young lamp lighter named Jack. Honestly, he picks up right where Bert leaves off and tries to have the exact same character dynamic with her. And while Miranda is perfectly skilled, it just doesn’t work. Or if it does work, it’s not bringing anything fresh to the table.
3) It Doesn’t Build On Its World
It really, really doesn’t—Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t change universes at all. It barely changes its socks. As stated, the aforementioned house is Foreclosure is still 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Michael works at Dad’s bank. The admiral is still blasting cannons. Dick Van Dyke plays the same old man that he did in the original when he was dressed up (again—so amazing that got him while they could. He is a national treasure). Jack is playing the role of Bert. Michael’s children, Annabel, John, and Georgie might as well be Wendy, John, and Michael with Mary Poppins as Peter Pan. And with the slimy nephew played by Colin Firth taking over the bank to take homes away from the citizens to raise profits for the bank reminds me of Prince John in Robin Hood stealing from the poor while King Richard is away.
It does do a few things that are original, and that’s primarily in the China Bowl scene which is a rehash of the Chalk Drawing scene. The chalk scene is a big deal in the original Mary Poppins film. That’s where we see the actors sing ‘Jolly Holiday’ and ‘Supercal’. We have the live action/animation hybrid and much of the world is solidified. So, Returns had a lot to live up to in their version. And truthfully, it was very successful. The animation in the new scene was so, so respectful. It was all hand drawn and in that sort of 1960s Disney style that again, reminds me of the original Mary Poppins and of Robin Hood. I can see that the entire creative staff was extremely careful during this part and there was so much love implemented in here. I seriously applaud them for their work. That said…
4. The Songs Are Completely Forgettable
And holy sweet mother of flashlights, are there a million of them. At the risk of sounding cynical, its like the composers and song writers kept banging out songs hoping that one of them would be ‘the hit’. And yet, that hit never came. Though for whatever reason, they decided to use every song in the movie regardless.
It was very clear which song attempted to be the equivalent from the original film. The song Mary sings to the children during the underwater bathtub scene is the ‘Spoonful of Sugar’. She sings a song to the kids at bedtime, and that one is the ‘Tuppence’ equivalent. And when they’re in the animation/live action hybrid world, singing ‘A Cover is Not a Book’…it tries so hard…but it’s not ‘Supercal’.
Speaking of songs, while no one said that Julie Andrews would make any appearance in this film, the powers that be made some strange decisions shoehorning Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury in. It felt like a bait and switch. ‘You can’t have the OG, but do you remember these two classic stars? Here, watch them in singing roles that are forced and uncomfortable.’ I have to note as well that the ‘Lost in a Fog’ sequence, the equivalent to ‘Chim Chimney’ and ‘Steppin’ Time’ clocks in at thirty minutes. I’m not even kidding. It just keeps going. And lastly…
5) Nothing Means Anything
Let me clarify what I mean here. Ultimately, any tense moments that this saccharine sweet movie has just don’t mean anything. For example, when Mary Poppins arrives, we see young Georgie running through a rain storm, then dragged by his kite in his raincoat and rainboots.
In all seriousness—there is actually quite a good chase scene in the China Bowl scene where a villainous cartoon character, a caricature of the bank’s chairman and his two henchmen kidnap Georgie. Annabel and John go after them to save their brother while Mary and Jack are doing their sing and dance thing on stage with a bunch of penguins. This moment is actually tense and exciting. It makes you wonder if there are any stakes in this weird world that Mary drags the children into. That perhaps her carelessness is not always such a good idea. Alas—nope. She’s practically perfect in every way and she makes zero wrong decisions.
There’s a scene at the end where Jane and Michael need more time to get the banking certificates over to the weaselly bank chairman in order to save their home. Therefore, Jack and his lamp lighting crew haul tush over to Big Ben to literally turn back the clock. It’s this big, tense moment with Jack climbing the clock. He’s nearing the minute hands, he’s almost got it, he can’t, and…Mary Poppins flies up with her umbrella and pulls back the minute hand. Like really…she could have just done that the whole entire time?
And eventually, at the end, after the big climax scene where Jane and Michael get the proper documents to the bank chairman and he still says he’s taking their home, Dick Van Dyke comes in and says they get to keep their home. Not only do they get to keep their home, but George Banks had enough stocks and funds and other goodies in the bank that their whole loan is paid off. That’s it! The end. Not only is their problem solved, but like, they basically won the lottery. It’s completely too much. And finally, everyone in the movie takes flight holding balloons. It takes ‘Let’s Fly a Kite’ to a new level and everyone gets to fly themselves. Of course, they ensure to point out that none of the adults will remember in the morning. Except Jack. He’ll continue to be privy along with his forced relationship with Jane Banks.
And exhale. We made it through. You may say I’m overextending, and that’s okay. You might tell me it’s just a kid’s movie and I should really just relax. You may very well have a good point. But you know what? I truthfully don’t even see who this movie is geared toward. It’s a family movie; that’s the skin it is wearing. But what’s left after that? I don’t feel it would appeal to children today and it doesn’t quite hit the ‘fan service’ notes to appeal to hardcore fans of the original Mary Poppins movie. If someone took the scraps of Peter Pan and Robin Hood, sewed them together, then stretched a rubber Julie Andrews mask over this new Frankenstein Monster’s head, the result would be Mary Poppins Returns.
Take that visual as you will.