Ranging from “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to “meh,” critical reactions to Mary Poppins Returns are all over the place.
Some early audience members delighted in the revamped world of color, propriety, and nostalgia. While other critics, like Mashable’s Angie Han, say the sequel feels contrived, forced, and thoroughly unimaginative.
Starring Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns takes viewers back to Cherry Tree Lane where Michael and Jane are all grown-up with children of their own. When Michael’s wife dies, Mary returns to the Banks’ home to set things right—with help from a newly imagined Bert-type, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Laden with Poppins puns and sequel-to-original comparison points, reviews indicates that one size does not fit all when it comes to this Disney tentpole.
Before shuffle-ball-changing into Mary Poppins Returns on Dec. 19, check out critics’ takes below.
Emily Blunt captures Mary (and Julie) in all the right ways
Why, it’s Mary Poppins, of course, and she hasn’t aged a day! Talking parrot umbrella, smart red bowtie, a stern but enchanted approach to daily chores… the only thing that’s changed about the character is the actress playing her. But while the part only requires Emily Blunt to channel the spirit of Julie Andrews’ performance — once again, the eponymous nanny lacks a clearly defined character arc, and all but blends into the background during the second half of the film — the “Edge of Tomorrow” star can’t help but overachieve. Not only does she capture Andrews’ careful balance between severity and playfulness, but she constantly wobbles the scales in a way that adds tension to a movie that never manages to mine any from its plot, or from any of the mediocre songs that punctuate it.
It takes a while to warm up to Blunt’s performance simply because she has a different rhythm from Andrews, but something clicks (perhaps not coincidentally) around the time that Mary and the children take a trip to interact with an assortment of anthropomorphic animals at a vibrant and lively animated music hall. From that point on, we have a better sense of Mary’s true self as she allows the children to see beneath her prim and proper exterior, and Blunt confidently makes the role her own with a little more sass than Andrews likely would’ve been allowed to portray in 1964.
The plot is messy and sad
Dead moms, stolen homes, cynical banks and earnest Bankses: That’s an awful lot of complications for even a wizardly problem solver like Mary Poppins to unravel. The original picture constructed its emotional throughline slowly, stringing together a series of delightful, episodic adventures that meandered their way toward a startlingly cathartic finale. The hectic, calculated busyness of “Mary Poppins Returns,” by contrast, wears you out almost immediately, in part because every throwaway gag and narrative digression has been so vainly contrived to pay off in a flurry of climactic would-be surprises.
The musical numbers are hit or miss
Shaiman’s lush underscoring enriches the movie throughout, and his songs with co-lyricist Wittman are their best since Hairspray, full of personality and humor, and reverential without being slavish in their adherence to the musical patterns of the first film. Even the raucous “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” has an equivalent here: “The Royal Doulton Bowl,” full of “marvelous, mystical, rather sophistical” wordplay.
Then there’s the real stumbling block: the musical sequences, which all desperately want to be crowd-pleasers. While composer and lyricists Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman mostly do a very good job of keeping the songs in the same early-20th-century style as those in the first film by the Sherman brothers, the songs quite simply fail to be memorable at all. A day after seeing this film, I would not have been able to recall the rhythms or lyrics of the film’s songs if my life depended on it.
That animated sequence is truly delightful
The highlight of the film is a sequence filled with talking animals that seamlessly combines live-action and hand-drawn animation as Blunt playfully growls through “The Royal Doulton Music Hall,” then grabs a bowler hat and cane with Miranda as they sing and dance (and rap!) alongside tux-clad penguins for “A Cover Is Not the Book.”
There are moments in the film that come near to matching the visual enchantment of the original — particularly a long sequence during which, as in the 1964 film, the human children find themselves in a 2D animated world of imagination, having been transported there by Mary, that’s plenty entertaining.
Mary Poppins Returns is good, but too closely tries to mimic its predecessor
Probably the worst thing you can do before watching Mary Poppins Returns is to see the 1964’s Mary Poppins not just because it’s hard to compare to a film that has such a beloved reputation, but because you can see all the ways Marshall comes up short. His movie just doesn’t have the same level of imagination, and it certainly doesn’t have the songwriting chops (there’s not a song in Mary Poppins Returnsthat has the staying power of “A Spoonful of Sugar” or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”). That’s not to say that the original Mary Poppinsis some untouchable gem, but rather that it appears Mary Poppins Returns didn’t even try to outdo the original in any respect.
That said, there’s a paradox built into “Mary Poppins Returns.” Nearly everything in the film is designed to evoke a song, a visual flourish, or a story detail from the original “Mary Poppins.” So in more ways than you can count, it’s “just like” the earlier film. But, of course, when you first watched “Mary Poppins” (and I’m old enough to have seen it when it came out — in fact, I saw it five times), you weren’t thinking, “Look! It’s just like that classic we love so much!” Nostalgia, in “Mary Poppins Returns,” is a transporting emotion, yet the movie is as calculated a piece of re-enactment as “The Force Awakens.” Even as it throws off sparkles of sweetness, light, and vaudeville fairy dust, the more the film mimics “Mary Poppins” the less it can be “Mary Poppins.”