'Mary Poppins Returns' review: Too many spoonfuls of sugar

When there’s so much nostalgia, memory and legacy simultaneously haunting and endorsing a film, it is difficult to view it as a project meant for a new audience: children today. Like the Julie Andrews-led Mary Poppins (1964) formed a part of childhood film-watching memory for many across generations, the Emily Blunt-led sequel, Mary Poppins Returns appears to have set out with a similar agenda. The captivating, effulgent, upbeat and imaginative visuals along with lucid storytelling are tailored for the young ones, while consistently pleading the adults to see the film with the same naivety and abandon. The kids, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) Banks, who once believed in Mary’s (Emily Blunt) magical powers of sending you on a trip of imagination, are now sceptical grown-ups. “When we were children, we believed Mary could do all sorts of things,” says Michael as the otherworldly nanny revisits their lives (straight from the sky again). But the siblings aren’t kids any more, nor are the grown-ups who are seeing Mary Poppins Returns, which makes it challenging to ignore the calculated efforts of the film, while simultaneously relishing the overdose of happiness and spoonfuls of sugar.

Mary Poppins Returns
  • Director: Rob Marshall
  • Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep
  • Storyline: Mary Poppins revisits the Banks household when they are served with a notice of repossession

The necessity of a sequel to a classic after 54 long years is up for discussion. One could argue that the film’s bubbling enthusiasm holds ground in any era, for cynicism in adults knows no time limit, and a saviour from the heavens is always welcome. But it's not lost on me that the film is particularly a strong antidote to the polarising times we live in, almost functioning on a happiness scale diametrically opposite to the world we read about in the news. Set in the gloomy economically challenged London during the Great Depression, it's working-class characters like Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) the lamplighter, who bring positivity and help the Banks family fight against the malicious president of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth). In times like those, where money was power, Mary Poppins Returns advocates escapism, child-like imagination and finding recourse in family and friends. In a sequence that stands out, Mary takes the three kids Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) — into a Royal Doulton bowl, left behind by their dead mother. The 2D animation surrounding the characters, paying homage to early days of Disney, reignites child-like ability and curiosity to find amazement in the ordinary. As much as Rob Marshall’s sequel endorses imagination, it also stays firmly rooted in familiarity and seldom moves beyond what we’ve seen before; both in fantasy musicals and in the 1964 original.

The actors work with a certain degree of exaggeration to match up to the high-volume nature of the film. It’s most apparent during Meryl Streep’s single musical cameo, where she puts on a pronounced and comical accent as Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy, forcing Blunt and the kids to follow suit. Blunt embodies the stern yet semi-magical Mary with frowns, conviction, hidden smiles and self-admiration. She delivers some of the sharpest (and uptight British) lines like “Sit upright, you’re not a bag of flour”, “Cleaning is not a spectator sport” and “You have so much dirt on you that you can grow a garden on it”. Despite the film’s not-so-subtle approach, she is staunchly measured, which sometimes makes her appear incongruent with all that’s happening around her. Whishaw as the single father is gentle and along with the three kids can make you sniffle and grin, sometimes at the same time. For a throwback to Mary Poppins, you have the 93-year-old Dick Van Dyke making a dancing cameo, which is one of the most endearing moments in the sequel’s two-hour-long run. It encapsulates why the film, in spite of all its misgivings, strikes a deeper chord — it reminds you that you’re never too old to be a child.

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 2:57:33 PM |

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