Friday 28 December 2018

Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

A children's musical fairytale, Mary Poppins Returns brings back the whimsical nanny to help the next generation of the Banks family.

In London during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is struggling to raise his three kids one year after their mother died. Michael is about to lose the family house, as he is unable to repay a loan and the evil bank chairman Wilkins (Colin Firth) is eager to foreclose. Michael and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) cannot find their father's long-lost bank share certificates that would repay the loan.

With things looking grim, the magical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) descends on a kite to look after the kids. With the help of jovial lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), she uses her powers to help the children recover from their mother's loss and to imagine what is possible, and she arranges for a chipped Royal Doulton bowl to be fixed by her eccentric cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep). However, Mary's biggest test will be to help the family keep hold of the house.

Essentially a remake of the 1964 original film but set 25 years later, Mary Poppins Returns aims to faithfully recreate the playful London aesthetics, imaginative sets, and amalgamation of live action and animation. Directed by Rob Marshall and written by David Magee, the film adapts the P.L.Travers books with children between 6 and 9 as a primary target audience.

And for those outside of that age group, not much enjoyment is on offer. This is a Disney production with the nauseating saccharine level turned to 11. The characters are shallow, the life lessons elemental and the plot threadbare. The singing and dancing numbers are largely forgettable, and most of them stretch longer than necessary.

Overall the film suffers severe pacing and focus issues. The running length of 130 minutes is a good 30 minutes longer than it needs to be. The entire Royal Doulton sub-plot is a tired excuse for a dull animation excursion, culminating in an excruciatingly awful sequence with Meryl Streep as cousin Topsy.

On the positive side, the set design recreating a foggy and gas lit London is often a visual treat, and Emily Blunt does her best, although her version of Mary occasionally lands just on the wrong side of smug and haughty. Julie Walters appears as a stock grumpy housekeeper, while Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury are trotted out for the contrived finale.

Mary Poppins Returns, but she probably need not have bothered.

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