Music, dancing, special effects, and magical grandeur permeate from Rob Marshall’s hotly anticipated Disney reboot Mary Poppins Returns. With a perfectly tuned performance by Emily Blunt as the titular nanny, early reviews and audiences agreed that this new feature was more than acceptable. With that being said, this reboot is not worth your time.
The most startling underachievement of Mary Poppins Returns is the lack of story depth and development. You remember when a writer for the site spent an unnecessary amount of your time breaking down what makes a good or bad remake or reboot? (To quote the single greatest viral video of all time, “I know, I did it!… I didn’t mean too…oooooooo.”) Well, this is a perfect example of poor execution in that area. The film’s plot tries to do too much, which makes it so each individual aspect of the story does not have any time to mature. Rather than spending time developing the story or its main characters, Rob Marshall’s musical remake seems to be doing its best not to anger fans of the original. It is almost like the screenwriters wrote the story using a checklist. Lin-Manuel Miranda solo song and dance sequence? Check. Mary Poppins and the children song and dance segment? Check. What about the mandatory Dick Van Dyke cameo? Check. Ultimately, the lack of story creativity makes the film stale and stagnant. In a film about family and magic, the creators could have been more focused in their storytelling.
You might be thinking, “Well the story stuff is acceptable if the musical sequences are awesome.” Well, that sucks because the musical performances are just as stale and unfocused as the story. As with the story, each musical sequence seemed to be formulaic, especially since only a few of them really helped move the story along in any worthwhile fashion. There is an argument to be made that these sequences are fine, and if you happen to think that then please feel free to comment. But one sequence that there should be little argument over is the bathtub sequence. While there are no words to describe the feelings that boiled up inside this writer’s soul while watching this particular sequence, just think about it as poor CGI meets the weirdest and idiotic story sequence. Disney can make all the animals in Jon Favreau’s “live-action” Jungle Book look and move like actual animals, but the company cannot make this sequence look like a finished product? Yes, this CG decision probably has more to do with Rob Marshall and his team, but holy crap is it poor.
The entire film is not terrible. Emily Blunt does a wonderful job bringing the titular Poppins back to life with all the wit and love that Julie Andrews gave her over 50 years ago. Ben Whishaw, aside from being the only character that is given any sort of arc or development, delivers a strong performance as Michael Banks. Lin-Manuel Miranda does exactly what you would think he would, just not performing his own songs. Colin Firth plays the film’s antagonist well, despite the character being criminally underdeveloped. Also, while the song and dance numbers are stale, the choreography interesting and the energy is high. These aspects hold the film solidly in mediocrity.
But is mediocrity the goal? Of course not. Mary Poppins Returns is a part of this year’s awards race! Maybe the Golden Globe nominations were just a result of the Hollywood Foreign Press doing what it always does and rewarding popularity instead of accomplishment. Do not bet on it though, because it sounds like this film is going to receive a number of nominations when Oscar nominations are released. For a company that has been playing its reboot cards pretty well in the last five or so years, this seems to be an interesting misstep for Disney. Think about it in terms of 2016’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Yes this film was criticized in a lot of ways, and yes some of that criticism was deserved, but the best parts of this film were the ones that Rian Johnson and the creative team took the biggest swings. Mary Poppins Returns suffers because of this conservative approach it took towards storytelling. Films like this make the whole Best Popular Film award idea look that much better because it does not belong in the big conversation.
Thanks for reading! Curtis.