Mary Poppins Returns is set 20 years after the 1964 original, and this time, the Banks are having more problems – especially with their bank, since while Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives in the family home with his three children, an unwise investment with Wonga has led to the bank wanting to foreclose, and to repossess their abode at 17 Cherry Tree Lane… (okay, so Wonga aren’t involved, but you get the idea – the end result is the same)
It is the time of ‘the great slump’ (a recession, then)
The film starts very well, introducing all the characters, whilst giving us the backstory to how Michael got into the position in which he finds himself, and since that doesn’t appear to be widely publicised, and also since I didn’t know myself before watching this, I shall not reveal that here.
Julie Walters plays the Banks’ Mrs Overall-style housemaid, who’s fine – although she does have a great early one-liner about lawyers, while Emily Mortimer is a bit too twee as Michael’s brother, Jane.
Meryl Streep pops up for a scene as Mary’s cousin, Topsy – albeit looking more like fashion oddball Zandra Rhodes, and next door, a batty old Admiral (David Warner) thinks nothing of firing off a cannon at the top of each hour, day or night, even though this causes obvious structural issues to the surrounding houses, and which, today, would quickly result in him having a noise abatement order slapped upon him.
Along the way, there’s also a scene-stealing performance from Dick Van Dyke, while Angela Lansbury also makes her presence felt.
What’s best about Mary Poppins Returns is that it evokes the style of the original movie brilliantly. The opening credits use the same font and comprise of painted backdrops of the London skyline. I’m not sure exactly of the time period, but it’s a time when you can actually still go and meet your bank manager in person!
However, it does get very cloying, and feels like eating three large trifles, each laced with LSD, or maybe they’re helping themselves a bit from the superb Robin Williams movie, What Dreams May Come.
I really enjoyed it for about 40 minutes. Then it felt like the entire film was on a loop as it slowly padded out the threadbare story (okay, so the story isn’t meant to be the main reason why we’ve come to see this film). In fact, at the 80-minute point, Mary expresses, “Right, that’s enough!”, and at that point, it certainly was.
Those initial 40 minutes, however, included some great lines which I’ll hide behind a spoiler, and note they do include the reveal of how Mary Poppins arrives, even though that was shown in the trailer.
Emily Blunt is superb as Mary Poppins and gets the voice and the singing just right, and she brings out all the catchphrases you expect – without overdoing them, as well as producing big items from inside implausibly small spaces – and not just her bag this time. We also see her sliding up the bannister (after which I was just hoping someone would copy Bart Simpson’s observation of Shary Bobbins in The Simpsons season 8 episode Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious, “Her butt waxed the banister!”), as well as owning a talking umbrella handle. Some of her high jinks, however, if carried out in real life, would lead to a health and safety nightmare for the studio.
But… there’s just not enough of her. All too often, just as she’s about to shine again, Jack pops up to stick his oar in, and either join along, or take over altogether – especially in a dance sequence when he’s joined with his Leeries – aka fellow lamplighters – nothing more sinister than that, even though it sounds like it.
So, you won’t care about his appalling Cockney accent, since what really is annoying, is that they let him steal so much screen time away from Ms Blunt. That said, there’s not much else for him to do apart from getting constantly friend-zoned by Jane.
As I was watching, I didn’t think any songs could stick in the mind like the do from the original – although that could have done so since you hear them every time the film’s on, and I’ve only seen this new film once, but as I was walking out of the cinema afterwards, I found the final song, “Anywhere But Up” was going round my head, and I expect the same will happen to you, too.
For any others, I still instead, forever, have the aforementioned Simpsons spoof playing on a loop in my head, so those are the songs I was hearing.
There’s a problem to be solved, late on, and while I’ll give no spoilers – obviously, it’s nice to see that they actually try to find a kinda practical solution between themselves, since if they’d just relied on Mary Poppins to brandish her brolly and fix it, then it would be like expecting The Doctor to swing her sonic screwdriver about – which she did all too often in the last series of Doctor Who.
Despite all its issues, you just know the studio will be eyeing up a potential third movie, and even if that doesn’t happen, a spin-off musical is a shoe-in. And you can see they have that in mind, given how the entire movie feels like a stage production.
Then again, even if we don’t get Mary Poppins III, and since Disney now own Marvel, perhaps Ms Poppins will jet in on her brolly into Avengers: Endgame, to help out bumping off Thanos? Or since Disney also now own Lucasfilm, she’ll join the Resistance in Star Wars Episode IX?
Finally, even those the original Mary Poppins was 140 minutes, this sequel is too long at 130 minutes. I would say the film needs to cut about 20 minutes of Jack out of it, which would not only get the film down to a more manageable 110 minutes, but also restore the Mary/Jack balance, and it would be much better for it, especially since Jack is to this film what Jar Jar Binks was to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
And I won’t say how Mary leaves, but when you see it, the method does have a whiff of Mr Benn being led on by the shopkeeper…
Finally, a trip to Vue wouldn’t be complete without some cockup happening, and this time it happened on an epic scale… and it wasn’t just that they whacked up the lights during the end credits yet again…
The film was meant to start at 10am – well, the trailers and adverts which, these days, tend to run for an overlong 30-35 minutes. By 10.15, nothing had come onscreen, and since no-one else was doing anything about it (in this large audience), I went out to see if I could speak to anyone. There was a guy checking tickets, who I think was the manager, and he told me that someone had gone to check what was happening with the projector – which, these days, no longer deal with film, but just take a hard drive which has been supplied by the studio.
Around 10.20, another member of staff came in to tell us they were looking into the problem, and were hoping to start the film soon, and then a few minutes later, the manager came in and said they were looking to start the film from just after 10.30, whilst junking the adverts and trailers – so, around the time the film proper would’ve started anyway…
10.45 – It still hadn’t started, and the manager came back in to tell us that the projector had to go through a validation process for the film, and it would mean the film would now start at 11.00, and he gave out a free ticket to everyone in the audience so we can use that for another time.
As 11.00 arrived and went, it still hadn’t started, and I actually had to pinch myself, in case I was in one of those anxiety dreams where you’re just sat waiting for something to happen which never will until the point where you wake up. By this point, at least one family had given up since, while the film potentially was only delayed by around 30 minutes, I got the impression it was going to have a knock-on effect on their day, so off they went.
At 11.05, the film DID start! And it played right through, but… it was FREEZING!!!! I wondered if I was just sat in a crap place and that a door had been left open, since I rarely get cold, but here, I was having to put my jacket on AND zip it right up! BRRRRR!!!!!
When the end credits came, and the lights went up as usual, the manager came back in and said that staff would be waiting at the exit to hand out ANOTHER free ticket due to the heating problems, and that engineers were on the way. I’d wager that was down to the fact that their August 2018 refurb has been going on for far too long and that someone had knackered a cable somewhere.
Running time: 130 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney
Cinema: Vue Lowry, Salford Quays
Format: Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (ARRIRAW (3.4K), Dolby Vision, Anamorphic Panavision)
Released: December 21st 2018
Director: Rob Marshall
Producers: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Marc Platt
Screenplay: David Magee
Story: David Magee, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca
Based upon the Mary Poppins stories by: PL Travers
Music: Marc Shaiman
Mary Poppins: Emily Blunt
Jack: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Michael Banks: Ben Whishaw
Jane Banks: Emily Mortimer
Anabel: Pixie Davies
John: Nathanael Saleh
Georgie: Joel Dawson
Ellen: Julie Walters
Cousin Topsy: Meryl Streep
Wilkins / Wolf: Colin Firth
Gooding / Badger: Jeremy Swift
Frye / Weasel: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Mr. Dawes Jr: Dick Van Dyke
Balloon Lady: Angela Lansbury
Admiral Boom: David Warner
Binnacle: Jim Norton
Miss Penny Farthing: Noma Dumezweni
Angus: Tarik Frimpong
Miss Lark: Sudha Bhuchar
Park Keeper: Steve Nicolson
Milkman: Christian Dixon
Shamus the Coachman: Chris O’Dowd (voice)
Clyde the Horse: Mark Addy (voice)
Parrot Umbrella: Edward Hibbert (voice)
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.