Mary Poppins Returns is Rob Marshall’s first film since 2014’s Into the Woods. Set 25 years after their initial introduction; Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer and Ben Wishaw) are reunited with the mystical Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) just when they need her most. It’s super-cali-fragilistic-expialidocious (even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious). Along with a cast of zany characters, Mary brings color back into the lives of Michael and his three children during a depression era slump. Though the adventures are beautifully stylized and the highly scrutinized titular role is done the utmost justice, the whole is only as good as the sum of its parts.
Never Need a Reason, Never Need a Rhyme: Step in Time, A Spoonful of Sugar, Jolly Holiday, Chim Chim Cher-ee and Let’s Go Fly a Kite. If your childhood was as full of musicals as mine, then you can pretty much hum off of the top of your head to the tune of each of these songs. The original Mary Poppins produced a number of catchy tunes which became emblematic of the musical film genre towards the end of its Hollywood hay-day. Marc Shaiman’s music and lyrics for Mary Poppins Returns, unfortunately, fail to encapsulate audiences and flitter from memory almost as soon as the cast has sung their final note. Due to his previous original work in Hairspray and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut I was quite looking forward to the new music that would be introduced to the mythos of this iconic universe. To add to that, he had contemporary Broadway’s biggest and most unique name to utilize with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance as the old London leerie, Jack. Though his rapping talents are briefly utilised in the wonderful dance number "A Cover Is Not The Book", the pure charm and contemporary flair brought to that number alone left me absolutely starved for more throughout the rest of the film, when we only received it once more in "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" it was as if these songs were written with so much to owe audiences that Shaiman set his focus too broadly. Songs like "The Royal Doulton Music Hall" and "Turning Turtle" lack the repetition and simplistic charm that made The Sherman Brother’s original soundtrack so quintessential to an already established genre of cinema.
She’s Baaaaack: Let’s just state this fair and square; Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins. Since it was first announced back in February 2016 that Blunt would be the Mary of the modern age the decision was under intense scrutiny. Let alone Emily, how could anyone do justice to a role that is so classically Julie Andrews’ to play. This is the exact thought process people had about Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle, and though Andrews did go on to win the Oscar as Mary that year, the world did not implode (and still has not) due to a lack of Julie Andrews. Blunt turns the charm up to eleven and with a smirk alone she epitomizes the enigmatic genius that has the ability to make the child in all of us feel both reverent and rollicking all at the same time. Vocally, she is fantastic and as a duo Blunt and Miranda absolutely shine. They’re at their best clad in powder purple suits and bowler hats, twirling canes side by side to an audience of hand-animated zoo animals. The two complement each other perfectly and are far and beyond the highlight of this film.
Never Forget the Importance of a Dance Number: Some of the most joyous moments in this film are the dance numbers. The set design, costumes, and choreography hark back to the golden days of the movie musical when all it took was one wide shot of a cast of characters telling a physical story when dialogue just couldn’t do it justice. Trip a Little Light Fantastic features an ensemble of lamp-lighters dancing, flipping and doing some amazingly choreographed stunts, yet the editing is so consistently choppy that it barely gives you a second to take in a dance sequence which seems like it was so lovingly put together in pre-production. The film cuts back to the reactions of Mary and the children several times during the sequence, sometimes their silhouettes are shrouded over the edge of the frame cutting out members of the ensemble. In these editing choices, the scene becomes crowded and unfocused. With musicals, oftentimes it is important to rest on the bigger picture for a second, to take in the physical story as if watching a stage show. Rather than cutting back to Mary and the children reacting with their jaws agape, maybe it is more effective to let the movie-goer experience that for themselves.