Review – Mary Poppins Returns

Monday 17 December 2018

Rather unusually for the day – back in 1964 – Phil had two American friends who lived here, had seen Mary Poppins in the States and used to wang on and on about it endlessly. They were incredulous when Phil asked them. “But what’s Mary Poppins ?”

These were the days when films would take months to cross the Atlantic and years to reach Phil’s local cinema, the Westbury Vista which came with an asbestos roof, an Orientally designed interior and a climb of just three steps up to what would now be called Premium Seating but they liked to call The Balcony.

Phil recalls the excitement when he eventually saw the Disney film with his family in, what was to him, a very large cinema in Bournemouth.

If for some peculiar reason you’ve never seen the original, you really should. It will certainly work both for and against your Mary Poppins Returns experience.

It works against it as it seeks to remind us of how brilliant the original was. It couldn’t possibly match that. We must admire its chutzpah for even trying.

What works in its favour is by being less like a sequel and more of a celebratory tribute to the original. Cue the catchiest number in the film “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” from a slew of dancing lamplighters (as opposed to chimney sweeps with “Step in Time”). Add a brilliantly designed sequence mixing live action with traditional cell animation (hurrah!) complete with dancing penguins and you soon get the idea where it’s going.

The grown up Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) supports workers’ rights presumably having inherited her mother’s suffragette predilections.  Then there’s the snow globes, pigeons, kites and Dick Van Dyke (93 this week) singing and dancing on a desk. A brief appearance by Karen Dotrice (the original Jane Banks) bumping into the grown up version of her character is one of many nods to the original. Not to mention more park benches and balloons than Phil would ever find acceptable were this on a theatrical stage. But then one of the park benches is occupied by a balloon-distributing Angela Lansbury.

Set in the 1930’s during “The Great Slump” Michael Banks (a rather charmless Ben Whishaw, singing when he’s not being grumpy) is a widower, has three children of his own, and works in the bank that will soon repossess his own Cherry Tree Lane house if he doesn’t find a shares certificate. Despite his penury he still finds the money to employ a nanny and a housekeeper (Julie Walters in her full gurn setting). Is it in Whishaw’s contract that Walters must always play his housekeeper (cf. Paddington)?  Though exactly what financial contract Ms Poppins is under remains unclear.

Once Poppins moves in we get a pleasing bathtub adventure, a riotous visit to Poppins’ cousin (Meryl Streep) who lives in a house that turns upside down but only on certain Tuesdays, (think “I Love to Laugh” in the original) and an adventure at “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” which exists in a Royal Doulton bowl. Might this be Royal Doulton’s first ever cinematic product placement?

The lyrics (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) are sometimes witty, the music (Shaiman) pleasant but fairly unmemorable. Though this may just be as it’s a first hearing. When a few bars of the originals are inserted into the soundtrack it reminds us how superior those songs are. All the numbers seem to reference one from the original just as Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s Jack (replacing the sweep Bert) plays homage to Dick Van Dyke with a decidedly dodgy cockney accent.

Phil was pretty excited to see this version – albeit 54 years on. He felt quite an emotional choke when Mary makes her first appearance. It’s also the moment where the film perks up considerably. Phil will avoid saying Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way as most will say that. If you can sidestep her overly plummy accent it is she, along with the other Emily, who provides most of the charm that is sometimes lacking elsewhere.

Like the first film and the books it’s quite episodic and Mary doesn’t have a huge amount to do in terms of the plot. She flies in, visits a house that’s been turned on its head, tries to buy a bit more precious time to find the shares agreement and flies out again. So it’s all an analogy for Mrs May’s Brussels trips.

It’s Super-nanny’s-fragile-plot-that’s-rather-like-the-first-one.

We were at a special screening full of theatre folk (including other Disney employees such as the West End’s current Aladdin) and there was a brief and rather intimate Q&A with the film’s director Rob Marshall afterwards. He was entertaining, informative (Van Dyke does his own dancing, the lamplighter’s number took three weeks to film etc), articulate and well just flipping delightful and more than happy to exchange Poppin’s memories one-two-one afterwards too. An opportunity that was impossible to resist.



2 Responses to “Review – Mary Poppins Returns”

  1. Kevin Probert-Briggs Says:

    I have to say that Emily’s plummy accent rather spoilt it for me , she was way too Downton Abbey sounding . I also think the songs were rather lame . It’s a good enough homage to the original but overall I found it lacking in charm

  2. […] stepped into the shoes of Mary Poppins in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’….or at least that’s what I’ve […]

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