I grew up watching Mary Poppins. She was the magical Nanny we all wanted to waft in on an umbrella and fix our everyday boring lives. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and I was left with just Mary Poppins once or twice a year on TV.
When I heard they were making a sequel to a much beloved film I have to admit I was a bit worried and while Mary Poppins Returns isn’t as bad as I thought it could be, it’s not a patch on the original.
While no specific year is mentioned, apparently the film is set in the mid-1930s, around 25 years after the events of the first film and sees Ben Whishaw star as a grown Michael Banks, his wife has not long passed away and he’s struggling to cope look after his 3 children and run the family home.
Michael has forgotten to make 3 loan payments and the bank is foreclosing on the house, giving them just 5 days to get the money or get out.
And that is basically the story.
There’s not much to it at all, the adults need to find a share certificate and lighten up a little, the kids need to stop acting like adults and lighten up a little so along comes Mary Poppins to wave her magic umbrella and fix everything.
The problem with Mary Poppins Returns is that it lacks the warmth and charm of the original. I found very little humour in it (I don’t think I laughed once) and I had to reach for a hanky at one point thanks to an excellent Withenshaw who is wasted is this film.
Emily Blunt’s clipped could-cut-glass English accent has none of the undercurrent of love that Julie Andrews’ version has. In fact the only reason we know Blunt’s Poppins isn’t a right bitch is down to a few knowing looks in various shiny surfaces.
Musically the film is a bit of a let down, there isn’t a show stopper like
The film is also far too long, weighing in at 2 hours and 10 minutes. I looked at my watch (always a bad sign) and was horrified to discover only 20 minutes had passed when it felt like the film should be wrapping up.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mary Poppins film without a dodgy cockney accent and while Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) could never, ever, ever be as bad as Dick Van Dyke, a cockney accent is more than saying “wiv” instead of “with” – why Hollywood insists on making American actors attempt a cockney accent I’ll never know.
And Mary Poppins’ mockney accent during the “A Cover Is Not A Book” number doesn’t fair any better.
Speaking of Dick Van Dyke, the real stars of the show are the celebrity cameo moment. Meryl Streep as cousin Topsy is a hilariously drunk sounding character (I’m not sure if it was a Russian accent or just vodka that was at work here) and she certainly shows Blunt et al how it’s really done. Julie Walters is also present as the family cook Ellen, doing her best “I’m not channeling Mrs Overall, honest” impression.
Van Dyke makes a welcome appearance as the “young” Mr Dawes Jr. and throws in a nice reference to a gag in the previous film, David Warner is great as the crotchety admiral but that standout performance for me was from Dame Angela Lansbury as the Balloon Lady. She may be 93 but she certainly blew Blunt off the screen in the few seconds they shared together (think Judy Dench in Shakespeare In Love).
Overall the film was pretty much what I expected – a cynical attempt to cash in on a much loved tradition which seems to be par for the course at Disney at the moment (Lion King and Dumbo being released later this year as further examples).