As the final weeks of the semester approach us, we all need a minute to sit down, relax and watch a mindlessly entertaining movie. Campus Life played “Mary Poppins Returns” on Friday night in the Student Center Auditorium. “Mary Poppins Returns” is fun for the family, though it suffers in comparison to the original film.
The movie takes place in 1930s London, which is 30 years after the events of the 1964 film “Mary Poppins.” Siblings Michael and Jane Banks, played by Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer, respectively, are all grown up and still living in their childhood home. Michael Banks is recently widowed, about to lose the home and has three kids to care for. Yes, this movie is bleak. Naturally, Mary Poppins, played by Emily Blunt, returns to save the day, even though the kids seem to be taking care of themselves well already.
Throughout the film, I couldn’t help but long for the magic of the original. The movie’s $130 million budget does its best to recapture that magic. The formula for the original is the same formula that “Mary Poppins Returns” follows. There’s music, there’s a great ensemble, there’s joy and the runtime is too long, however, there is something missing. “Mary Poppins Returns” relies on the nostalgia of the first film, and in doing so, it fails to succeed on its own.
“Mary Poppins Returns” starts off very similarly to “Mary Poppins.” Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Jack serves as our audience surrogate, much like Dick Van Dyke’s Bert did. It’s not coincidental that Jack is the apprentice of Bert. Lin Manuel-Miranda tries his best in a cockney accent that ranges from good to annoyingly distracting. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but wonder how this movie would improve if Miranda was the man in control like he was for the ultra-successful play “Hamilton.”
Emily Blunt channels her best Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. The result is an extra spoonful of pep, fashion and perhaps a dose of all-knowingness. Because of Blunt’s charisma and determination to be great, she mostly succeeds in the role. The movie instantly improved the second that she barged back into the lives of the Banks family. In the joyless, boring scenes with Michael and his employer William “Weatherall” Wilkins, the movie longed for Mary Poppins.
Another flaw is the obnoxious “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” scene with Lin Manuel-Miranda. Here, we are supposed to learn more about Miranda’s character and empathize with his plight. Instead, I’m wondering why he is weirdly hanging around these children. The kids excitedly chant, “trip a little light fantastic,” but “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is certainly no “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
The movie works better in spoonfuls than it does cohesively. The moments where it succeeds best are the moments when it lets go of the sorrow and leans into joy. The first sequence where I was genuinely excited by the film is when the kids and Mary Poppins take a dive into the tub and discover an underwater world. What follows is a fun sequence to the tune of “Can You Imagine That?”
The best sequence is half-animated, half-live-action. Georgie is kidnapped by an evil wolf, weasel and badger meant to represent Wilkins and his associates. The other two siblings have to save him in an impressively successful rescue scene. Even though there was no moment where I feared for Georgie’s life, the emotional stakes were thrilling. When the kids all wake up after they successfully rescue Georgie, they realize that it was not a dream because they all experienced the same thing. That was magical.
There are other great moments in the film including the beautiful Oscar-nominated song “Where the Lost Things Go” and appearances from Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury from the original film. Van Dyke and Lansbury are both 93 years old, but they brought an impressive level of charisma and heart to their short appearances. It is now my life aspiration to follow in Van Dyke’s footsteps to still be able to dance on a table at 93 years old.
Though it fails to reach the heights of the original, “Mary Poppins Returns” is still an enjoyable film. If watching the second film no longer sounds appealing, I recommend that you instead go fly a kite. It’s what Mary Poppins would want.