For the past few weeks, I’ve scowled at the sight of every Mary Poppins Returns poster. My inner monologue boiled with cynicism: Hey, cool! Remember when they made Revenge of Citizen Kane? Or Return to the Bridge on the River Kwai? Nope. ‘Cause they used to know enough to leave perfection alone. Mary Poppins is one those movies that made me fall in love with movies. Still, I tried to set aside my nostalgia bias and walk into this movie tabula rasa. (I’m making a New Year’s resolution to pepper my reviews with more Latin. You’re welcome.) A few musical numbers blow past and I notice something strange. Am I…actually enjoying this? I think I might be. Is it anywhere close to the original? No!!! I mean, sorry……no. If you can make peace with that like I did, then this movie will be far more enjoyable.
This sequel transports us to right before the Second World War. Jane and Michael Banks, the lovable tykes from the original, have grown into adults. Michael is a widower who struggles to provide for three children. Jane retains the teachings of Mary Poppins and remains a wistful idealist. Things look pretty bleak for the Banks family: A nasty banker (Colin Firth) threatens to evict them from their iconic home, while the grieving children long for their mother. Enter an ageless Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), who levitates back into their lives to tidy things back up a bit.
Mary Poppins Returns isn’t so much a sequel as another verse to the same song: We get a plethora of bouncy musical numbers, a brief excursion into classic Disney animation, and a few lessons learned and hearts mended along the way. If you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably find some likable stuff in this one, too. (And if you didn’t like the original Mary Poppins, I’m curious how you get Wi-Fi in that deep, dark, moldering dungeon in which you live.) As the mannered and mischievous Mary Poppins, Blunt makes a credible stand-in for Julie Andrews. Blunt can’t match Andrews’ voice, but that’s like faulting a basketball player for not having Michael Jordan’s jump shot. Mark Shaiman’s songs don’t come within a barge pole of the Sherman Brothers, but they’re all divertingly decent.
An old Hollywood legend exists about a filmmaker named Sam Taylor. It seems Taylor was adapting The Taming of the Shrew and found some of the exchanges between characters lacking. So, the opening credits supposedly recognized William Shakespeare, “with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor.” The lesson from this cautionary tale was simple: You don’t mess with greatness. I’d be lying if Taylor’s name didn’t pop in my head when I first saw the posters for this movie. They’re just going to screw it all up. Turns out, Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t make the mistake of flying too close to the sun because it realizes it doesn’t have to. It may not be practically perfect in every way, but it is perfectly acceptable in every way that counts.