REVIEW: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

BLUNT’S Mary Poppins is delightful.

Was it necessary for Mary Poppins to return? Emily Blunt as the titular Mary, this magical nanny from the sky, is terrific. She’s no Julie Andrews, but she has her own confident charm — radiating with joy from playing such an iconic character. Her endearing albeit haughty attitude, plus that inner glow, makes Blunt’s Mary delightful.

Bland songs and dry adventure

Set in 1935 — 25 years after the events of the Julie Andrews-starrer — the film opens with Lin-Manuel Miranda biking and singing cheerfully under a grey London sky. He’s Jack, the lamp lighter — obviously the counterpart of Bert (Dick Van Dyke), the beloved chimney sweeper. London here is enchanting, almost tactile. You can almost feel the wind in your face, the chill of the dying day and the anticipation for the arrival of a supernatural au pair.

Then we are taken into the home of the Banks family. Ben Whishaw is Michael Banks — widowed father of three kids (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson), and assisted by his cheerful sister Jane (Emily Mortimer). Michael and Jane are former wards of Mary. Immediately, the conflict is introduced: the Banks family is about to lose their home. It is, indeed, a tragic time.

Enter Mary Poppins, regally sliding down from the sky in a kite-turned-zipline. She is the escape, the savior, the guardian angel, whatever you want her to be. It’s the time of the Great Depression, with three children — motherless children — about to lose their home. What the Banks family needs is a dash of magic, a little nudge and endless song-and-dance, to overcome this great trial.

Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda attend the movie’s premiere hosted by The Cinema Society at SVA Theater in December in New York City.

The first 30 minutes of the movie is absorbing, mostly because of Blunt, who brings a spoonful of onscreen charisma in every frame. But after the 30-minute mark, the film begins to drag, until you’re itching to just stand up, walk away, go home and take a nap.

Mary Poppins is a musical. Although the music in this sequel is not bad, nothing sticks. Whishaw does a beautiful, heartfelt song number about his late wife, which twists the heart, but that’s it. The rest of the songs are mediocre, totally forgettable — the melody fading from your memory as soon as the song ends. Even if the film has Miranda doing a solo performance with his trademark rap, it feels dry and gives off a slightly icky feel that it’s selling it to Hamilton fans.

I watched the 1964 original more than 20 years ago and every time I see a medicine syrup, my mind automatically sings, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” In this sequel, I left the cinema remembering absolutely nothing of the tunes. Even that tearful Whishaw song has dissipated.

Mary Poppins lacks rapport with the children and with Miranda. The kids lack personality. The camera’s favorite, Georgie, the youngest of the Banks children — well, you want to like him, but he’s just a boring little boy.

The production design is superb and the dance choreography lovely. So, your experience is wildly fluctuating from okay to blah, and it’s frustrating. And every time a character breaks into a song, including one from Meryl Streep, you tend to look at your watch and wonder how many tracks are left, complete with a sigh of impatience.

Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and screenplay writer David Magee (Life of Pi) pick famous elements from the original to incorporate into the ho-hum narrative, hoping to inspire nostalgia, but they don’t work. Why recreate the scenes from the original with some twist? This is not a remake. This is supposed to be a sequel. We want the same Mary Poppins — but with different gimmicks, different set of tricks and a different sense of thrill.

NOTHING beats the original. Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke starred in the 1964 film directed by Robert Stevenson.

Although the filmmakers clearly revere the original as seen in the care and earnestness they employ to this sequel­­­, Mary Poppins Returns does not have enough imagination to whip up a new adventure, and sadly, no new songs to love. Despite the gorgeous visuals and wonderful performances by Blunt and Whishaw, you wonder why Mary Poppins needed to return to the screen. She really didn’t have to.

2.5 out of 5 stars
In Philippine cinemas January 8, 2019

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