Movie review: Do we really need a 'Mary Poppins' sequel?

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 10 2019 05:48 PM

Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins. Handout

I know the original "Mary Poppins" film inside and out as it was one of those videotapes and vinyl records which was on repeat in our house when I was a child. I knew almost all the songs by heart. When I learned that a sequel was going to be released, I was not sure whether this was a good idea or not. Even when the trailer came out and I got a glimpse of Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, I was still not convinced. Despite my doubts, I was still curious how Disney was going to do this formidable job.

The sequel picks up 25 years after the events of the first movie. Michael Banks was a widower with three boisterous children, Annabel, John and Georgie. He worked as a teller in the same Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, where his father used to work. His wife had just passed away that year, and he was deep in debt, in danger of losing his house. He needed to find the the certificate to prove that his father had left them shares of the bank. 

One day, playful little Georgie found his dad's old kite and went to fly it in the park. When he pulled the kite down, Mary Poppins was riding along down with it. With the practically perfect nanny back, the lives of the Banks family were about to change magically once again. 

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The structure of this sequel followed the outline of the first movie faithfully. The relationship of the Banks children with their problematic father was not too good. Mary Poppins appeared in their lives and magical things began to happen. From there, each new song had its parallel song from the older film. Mary's introduction of her magic to the kids "Can You Imagine That" (where Mary took the kids on an undersea adventure) was like "A Spoonful of Sugar" though not as charming. 

When Mary, Jack and kids entered the cartoon world inside an old bowl, "The Royal Doulton Music Hall" was the parallel to "Jolly Holiday," which was sung when Mary, Bert and kids entered the chalk drawings on the sidewalk. "The rap-like rhythm of "A Cover is not a Book" corresponded to the tongue-twisting "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," but it was definitely not as catchy. "Turning Turtle" sung by Mary and the kids during their visit to her Cousin Topsy was in the spirit of "I Love to Laugh," sung during their visit to their Uncle Albert. Unfortunately, none of these new songs were as memorable as their older counterparts.

The gentle ballad "The Place Where Lost Things Go" evoked similar emotions with the beautifully sad song "Feed the Birds." "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" an extended song and dance number by the Leeries (or streetlighters) was the answer to "Chim Chim Cheree" and "Step in Time," a song and dance number with the screevers (or chimney sweeps). The upbeat and optimistic final song "Nowhere to Go but Up" was the equivalent to the happy and snappy "Let's Go Fly a Kite." These were better songs which may endure longer, but likely not to the levels of the originals.

Emily Blunt had a tough job of trying to recapture the essence of Julie Andrews' Mary. With big shoes to fill, Blunt tried her best, but alas, she never really nailed the role -- not enough charisma, not enough joy. Li Manuel Miranda was an unexpected choice for the role of Jack, but he also lacked the x-factor of Dick Van Dyke's Bert. 

Ben Wishaw's Michael Banks was so down and woeful, though Emily Mortimer's Jane Banks was cute and chirpy. Meryl Streep's entire segment was forgettable and was of no consequence to the story. Despite being prominently billed on the poster, Dick Van Dyke (his one scene was a highlight!) and Angela Lansbury only appear towards the end of the film.

I wanted to like this sequel, but despite its best efforts and modern technology, I felt it cannot really match the old world charm of the original. The main problems were the new songs, which were clearly not up to the level of the original songs. In fact, whenever I recognize unmistakable tunes from old songs used in the instrumental score, I smile at the nostalgia they evoked. 

Disney waited 54 long years to come up with this sequel, but ultimately I felt it was not really necessary after all. The first movie was still so much better. Julie Andrews was and still remains to be the quintessential Mary Poppins. Disappointing. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."