Updated: Jan 27, 2019
Editor's Note: Thanks to Walt Disney Pictures for inviting us to an advanced screening for the purposes of review.
With a year of outstanding successes from Walt Disney Pictures, namely Black Panther and Incredibles 2, and disastrous failures such as he Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Mary Poppins Returns stands as the deciding factor for the intellectual monopoly this year. And through the combined efforts of Emily Blunt as the titular character and a fantastically realized production, Returns shifts the year far into Disney’s favor. It casts a unique spell of charm at every turn, allowing its childish moments to flourish on the big screen. It’s a rare experience that’s reminiscent of pristine, classic Disney productions. But that may yet be its biggest fault, as Returns often comes under strain when its predictable, overbearingly shallow middle act comes in. It’s in this sequence of events that director Rob Marshall attempts to throw egregiously long musical numbers at the screen in order to disguise the lack of material. But despite this and a handful of glaring issues, Mary Poppins Returns delivers spectacled madness with a hefty dose of heart to create the most charming film of 2018, serving as a delightful return home.
The original Mary Poppins was perceived as an instant classic, receiving thirteen nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and taking five of those nominations home. Beyond the critical acclaim, the titular character became a staple of Disney culture, with her popularity even stretching to other in-house franchises, specifically Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. As expected, there is immense pressure for director Rob Marshall and star Emily Blunt. After all, this is a character that has truly defined a generation. Fortunately, both Marshall and Blunt are able to seep the film into an awe-struck production. And yet, it could have all seemingly gone to waste if it wasn't for their efforts, since the screenplay rarely does Returns any favors.
Often times, the screenplay seems to lack bold, innovative flavors. It’s probable to assume that writer David Magee may have buckled under the pressure, and chose to retread similar ground as the first, rather than cover entirely new ground. And in certain elements, the creative decision does benefit the film. It makes a protective shield that allows the film to be familiar and instantly likable by the audience. But even so, I wish that Magee did take the franchise in new directions. And with the somewhat stark and open-ended conclusion, there isn’t a definite guarantee that there will be a satisfying continuation of the "practically perfect" nanny and the Banks family, at least not anytime soon.
But where the screenplay flourishes, is highlighting some fantastic set pieces and moments from Emily Blunt, whose performance is easily the best aspect of the entire film. Blunt has revolutionized her career with this role, and already she is receiving the deserved acclaim for it, namely a Golden Globe nomination. She injects a warmth and sarcastic charm into the character that makes it her own, pushing the role past the stereotypical impersonation that many fans were wary her performance might be. From subtle facial emoting to her surprisingly impressive vocals, Blunt immediately captures the spirit of the character, tone and all. It’s a role that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the year’s best, including Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody and Christian Bale in Vice.
As for the other performances, they are moderate, but appear unwieldy compared to Blunt. A key exception to that though would be Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack. He may not have much to do outside of delivering stupendous musical numbers, but he radiates the same delightful nature that the entire production seems to pertain. As a musical performer entering Hollywood, it’s an excellent launching pad for roles that hopefully are far more diverse and ranged.
Shockingly, one of the most disappointing elements of Returns is its soundtrack. There aren’t many tracks that left me humming or anything even remotely close to that. But in the larger scope, the music seems to serve another purpose--its childish charm. Often light and twinkled, the songs never seem to overshadow the production design and performances, serving more as a gateway rather than the focal point of the entire film. With both this and A Star Is Born, it seems more story-driven musicals are on the rise, hopefully ending the reign that hollow experiences such as The Greatest Showman had.
Featuring a star-studded cast, spearheaded by an award-caliber performance from Emily Blunt, Returns makes up for its lackluster screenplay with colorful production design and memorable set pieces. The film is a true and faithful follow-up to one of Disney’s most prominent classics, even a bit too faithful at times. But regardless, it’s a true crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word, sure to be a massive and deserving hit for this holiday season.
In Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” an all new original musical, Mary Poppins is back to help the next generation of the Banks family find the joy and wonder missing in their lives following a personal loss. Directed by Rob Marshall from a screenplay by David Magee and a screen story by Magee & Marshall & John DeLuca based upon the Mary Poppins Stories by PL Travers, the film stars: Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins; Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack; Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks; Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks; Julie Walters as Ellen; Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson as the Banks children; with Colin Firth as William Weatherall Wilkins; and Meryl Streep as Cousin Topsy.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS hits theaters on December 19th, 2018.