Blunt’s performance rescues ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

By Chic DiCiccio

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

“Mary Poppins Returns” is a peculiar movie. It’s the type of movie that is impossible to dislike … while you’re watching it. Afterwards, you quickly realize that nostalgia, clever acting and the over-abundance of Disney-induced joy had overridden your common sense and caused you to overlook several flaws. It’s also about 30-minutes too long and the fluff that should have been eliminated is easily identifiable. 

The good news is that none of the warts are Emily Blunt’s fault. She makes Mary Poppins her own while paying the proper homage to Julie Andrews’ perfect 1964 performance. The bad news is that screenwriter David Magee force feeds you characters and plot lines that either go nowhere or are inexplicably pointless. 

The story, in typical Disney fashion, involves dead parents. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives in his parent’s house (same one as the 1964 original) with his three children, Annabel, John and Georgie (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson). Michael’s wife has recently passed and the bank that employs him and his late father is about to repossess the house. 

Michael is clearly dealing with a lot of stuff and not even his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), or housekeeper, Ellen (Julie Walters), can keep things afloat. Enter Mary Poppins, who returns to not only take care of his kiddos, but cure Michael’s downward spiral into the perils of adulthood. 

Mary gets some help from Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a lamplighter who was Bert’s child apprentice in the first film, and the two of them proceed to sing songs and parade around London like no one is watching. 

There are ups and downs, with the biggest highlight being a trip inside a cartoon world located on a ceramic bowl. Down to the effects, music and camerawork, director Rob Marshall absolutely nails the entire sequence. 

It also allows Blunt the opportunity to drop her prim and proper accent and sing with a perfectly charming cockney accent alongside Miranda. It’s one of two moments of “Mary Poppins Returns” that cannot be disputed as pure Disney greatness. 

The downs are really down. The entire sequence with Meryl Streep as Mary’s cousin is an absolute time waste with zero redeeming factors that stinks of stunt casting. 

The grand finale that puts Jack’s lamplighter buddies in grave danger is rendered pointless because Mary Poppins can, you know, fly. 

There’s also the curious case of how every adult but Jack passes off Mary’s magical ways as their own memories playing tricks on them. 

If Emily Blunt wasn’t absolutely perfect, “Mary Poppins Returns” would be an abject failure. She runs circles around Miranda, who seems a bit lost or disinterested at times. It’s been quite a year for Blunt, and she continues to impress as one of the best actresses working today. 

The biggest surprise could be that Rob Marshall’s direction is very blasé. All the care and precision that he clearly put into “Chicago” is nowhere to be seen. 

There is a massive song and dance number featuring Jack and a huge team of lamplighters that is edited so quickly that some truly impressive dancing is barely spotlighted. It’s done so frantically that marveling at the skill and precision is impossible. 

Like a rich, sugary dessert, “Mary Poppins Returns” tastes great while you’re eating it but leaves you with an upset tummy afterwards. It also can’t decide if it wants to be a sequel or a reboot and ends up being average at both. It’s upsetting, but the movie feels like it’s monopolizing on another Disney trademark instead of originality. 

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