To produce a decent sequel to any well-loved film is no easy task. To release a sequel to a classic film 54 years later, and still capture the magic and essence of the original film is award-worthy. Unfortunately for Walt Disney Pictures, “Mary Poppins Returns” fails to measure up to its 1964 counterpart.
The film opens with London lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), who sings of the 1930s Great Slump and that good times are just around the corner. Those feeling the effects of London’s Great Depression include Jane and Michael Banks, whom Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) visited in the original film, and who are now both adults. Michael’s wife has recently died, leaving him to take care of his three children alone, with the help of his sister Jane.
To make ends meet, Michael takes out a loan from the bank, but fails to make payments and is in danger of losing the family home on Cherry Tree Lane. Enter Mary Poppins, who whips Michael’s children into shape and helps the family save their life on Cherry Tree Lane.
The film is formatted like a classic Disney film, with opening credits running over various watercolor scenes of London, as an overture plays. Nostalgic Disney stars Dick Van Dyke, who played Bert in the original Mary Poppins, and Angela Lansbury, the voice of “Beauty and the Beast” character Mrs. Potts, each have small roles in the film. The animated sequences use two dimensional animation, a nod to the older film and a departure from Disney’s contemporary, and often over-the-top, usage of 3D animation.
Though Disney captures the charm of the original film, “Mary Poppins Returns” feels more like a remake than a sequel. It’s extremely derivative, reinventing plot points from the classic. Instead of a chimney sweep helping Mary Poppins, it’s a lamplighter. Instead of a musical number where everything floats to the ceiling, it’s a musical number where the ceiling becomes the floor.
The music in the films falls short of the classic. Though the songs are well-written and carried marvelously by the cast, no song comes close to the caliber of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, or any track from the original films.
The choreography, however, is charming and inventive, and the Lamplighters dance sequence in “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is reminiscent of “Step in Time” from the original film.
It’s questionable whether any film could perfectly capture the magic and whimsy of the original Mary Poppins. Perhaps Disney would have been better off remaking Mary Poppins, rather than trying to pass off “Mary Poppins Returns” as an original sequel. Blunt misses the mark with her portrayal of Mary Poppins, because she seems to attempt to replicate Andrews’ character in the sequel, rather than interpreting P.L. Travers’ character in her own way.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is a trip down memory lane for many Disney fans, and therein lies the problem. The film was meant to be a sequel, not a remake, making the plot points seem tired, rather than nostalgic.
P.L. Travers was notoriously difficult to work with in the making of the original Mary Poppins movie. Perhaps Disney should have remembered Travers’ critiques for their remake attempt.