To simply use the phrase “practically perfect in every way” is cliche, but it is absolutely the truth for Mary Poppins Returns. From the amazing score to the brilliant cast to the obviously dedicated crew, this movie shows what a new creation can do while lovingly holding on to the past. While Disney has been on a run of recreating many of its beloved classics lately, this one shows how, when the time and effort is made, something unique can be created that is a wonderful reflection of the old material.
First, we must talk about the multiple homages to the original movie, which are carefully crafted so the film is not just a blatant re-telling of the same old story. The painted scenes have a newer look, which is perfect for highlighting that the time frame of the movie has also progressed beyond the original’s setting, while the score, hauntingly familiar yet strikingly new, guides the viewer on the journey of the film. Each note is carefully crafted to tickle the back of one’s mind while transporting the viewer back into the world of Mary Poppins.
Not only is the score breathtaking, but the songs themselves are especially crafted to tug at heart strings and leave one open to the vulnerability of feelings that many don’t have after reaching adulthood. While many knew Lin-Manuel Miranda was a shoe-in for his musical performance, the other cast members don’t let him outshine them. Emily Blunt continues the sweet gentleness of the Poppins character that Julie Andrews first displayed while telling us to “Feed the Birds” and also gives us more of the fun and spunkiness that was initially brought by “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Blunt also brings more whimsy and lightheartedness that Andrews only allowed to peak through during her portrayal.
Another standout has to be Ben Whishaw, whose portrayal of Michael Banks adds to his range as an actor. He shows the vulnerability of a grieving spouse, the stressfulness of raising three children alone, and the joy that can come when your priorities are finally in line. Emily Mortimer is a doll and perfect as Jane, and the child actors are perfect, which can be a rarity indeed. Unlike the original, the film actually sets up unlikeable characters (dare I say villains), which is a nice change from the original. It also allows the Banks family to not have a “villain”, and shows that the Banks children at least learned the lesson their father needed to learn in the first film. It’s important that things from prior movies stick (looking at you Infinity War), and the characters in this film demonstrate that the lessons Mary initially taught them have not gone completely. It also makes the plot more interesting to have outside forces affect the Banks family, beyond the forces of good.
While the entire cast shines, one might say Meryl Streep’s character, while an interesting addition in the Poppins lore, did not have the same impact as Uncle Albert and the “I Love to Laugh” section. It brought did help in the character development of the film, but there is a clear plot thread that is left dangling. It’s not enough to take one out of the film, but it definitely had a couple of us at the end question if that thread was resolved or not. While I know the composer enjoyed the song for Streep, it just feels a little out of place. Or, perhaps, it was the affected accent that took me out of listening to the song and attempting to understand all the words - multiple listens to the soundtrack will hopefully help, as well as another few viewings of the movie.
Overall, I cannot recommend this movie enough. For those who enjoyed the first, this is a perfect compliment. If you like the original, but maybe don’t have the same fondness as some, give this one the opportunity to fill that place in your heart. It achieves what Disney seems to be have been running after for years - a perfect sequel to an old film without impinging on or just outright copying the original beat for beat.