Film Critic Catrin Osbourne is thrilled with long-awaited Mary Poppins sequel, yet has some serious problems with the soundtrack

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Essential viewing of my own and many others’ childhoods, Mary Poppins (1964) remains one of Disney Animation Studio’s gems. So it was inevitable that they’d decide to jump on the former’s success. Whilst many of Disney’s recent prequels, sequels and remakes are merely pale imitations of the original, Rob Marshall’s Mary Poppins Returns did not leave me feeling empty.

Disney’s current obsession with modifying their older classics is producing a flurry of unnecessary films but Mary Poppins Returns can’t be viewed as entirely unneeded. It’s delightful Christmas viewing that captures classical brilliance in the 2D animation and music hall entertainment. However, it shines the most when it builds on Mary Poppins rather than merely replicating it.

The film begins with a traditional opening credits sequence over paintings of London. This sets the tone for Mary Poppins Returns – it is not trying to modernise Mary Poppins but aims to capture the classic Hollywood gold of the original.

We then enter into a vaguely 1930’s landscape. Down to the moustache, the recently widowed Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is becoming his father, dismissing the children’s imagination and focusing on money troubles. When the Banks’ household is under the threat of repossession, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) floats down from the sky yet again to sprinkle a touch of magic. Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) is now a trouser-wearing, social activist. Fitting for the modern audience, Disney begins to right the original’s portrayal of suffragettes as awful mothers.

Alongside the adults, Michael’s three children (Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Davies and Joel Dawson) and Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) will team up with Mary Poppins to save their home from the corrupted capitalism of the bank manager (Colin Firth). Only eight years old, Dawson steals the show as Georgie, the youngest of the Banks children.

Though she has been praised for the role, Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins takes the iconic character’s sassiness too far. At points, this feels like a parody of the nanny and forgets Julie Andrews’ sweetness.

The film could’ve done without Meryl Streep’s vaguely Eastern-European Topsy. The flipped workshop provides an interesting setting for the musical sequence, but ‘I Love to Laugh’ was a traumatically unfunny song already before its second version weighs the film down.

In keeping with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Disney takes the approach of keeping the same fundamental elements for the sequel. At times, however, this can appear unoriginal. For instance, Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack, who is dressed so similar to Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, the viewer wonders why he has not aged in over twenty years before the exposition twenty-minutes in.

Although it was carefully choreographed, Jack’s ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ is essentially ‘Step in Time’ 2.0. The best additions are the BMXing and Cockney rhyming slang rap, moving from pastiche to originality.

The film could’ve done without Meryl Streep’s vaguely Eastern-European Topsy. The flipped workshop provides an interesting setting for the musical sequence, but ‘I Love to Laugh’ was a traumatically unfunny song already before its second version weighs the film down.

Unfortunately, the songs fail to live up to the Sherman brothers’ original brilliance. Despite his success with Hairspray, Marc Shaiman does not offer a memorable soundtrack. The film reminds us of this as a few seconds of the ‘Feed the Birds’ motif is used at the emotional climax and was the only point that my eyes were no longer dry.

Though they may not stick in your head, I commend Marc Shaiman for refusing to follow the trend from modern musicals to produce a soundtrack that resembles the charts rather than telling the story – I’m looking at you The Greatest Showman (2017).

However, though it may be blasphemous to suggest, Mary Poppins Returns manages to make improvements on the original

However, though it may be blasphemous to suggest, Mary Poppins Returns manages to make improvements on the original. Mary Poppins was a masterpiece for the 1960’s but fails to boast a strong, cohesive plot – the familial arch occupies minimal scenes with multiple surreal tangents. In contrast, the sequel ensures that all the fantasy sequences are appropriately timed and fit into the repossession narrative.

Mary Poppins Returns enters into delightful 2D animated worlds. With more wit than the original, the second of these takes place in a china bowl and skilfully incorporates this into the fantasy. Whilst children are used to the high-tech, fast-pace visuals of films such as The Lego Movie (2014), Mary Poppins Returns insists on returning to classical Hollywood entertainment. With more oomph than the original, the climax makes use of both Mary Poppins’ magic and the London landscape. Focusing on Big Ben seems perfectly apt considering the country’s proclamation of love for the clock tower last year.

Verdict:

Mary Poppins Returns could’ve spread a little more magic by moving further from the original but Disney succeeded in capturing the wonder of Mary Poppins for a new generation.

Rating:

7/10

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