Mary Poppins Returns is a labor of love by everyone involved and also a non-starter. It’s a sequel / remake to Disney’s original Mary Poppins from 1964. Poppins is a low-key favorite for some but over five decades never garnered the funding for a feature-length sequel. With few memorable songs, a thin-but-convoluted plot and an overabundance of CGI, Returns likely won’t convince many new fans to engage with the series, but it is a nice treat for those who love the original. It is the kind of movie that is more fascinating behind the scenes than it is as a complete experience.
When Aly reviewed Returns back in December, she mentioned that the movie tries hard to recreate the singular hits from the first film but never manages to do so. It’s true. I almost fell asleep during the press screening at the time. Watching Returns at home, it fared somewhat better but still failed to capture my imagination and heart. It feels much like the other live-action Disney films released in the past few years that must have struck a chord with the studio after Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book were such box office successes. “What can we bring back?” A question untethered by the realities of the modern cinematic marketplace and, in this case, the realities of modern cravings for poppy, memorable musicals. The original Poppins has always been a long, odd beast of a film, the songs its saving grace. Without toe-tappers, Returns has already faded into obscurity and will continue to do so. It’s certainly better than 2017’s musical, The Greatest Showmanyet Showman will persist divorced from its relative cinematic quality. Not so here.
Emily Blunt brings the spirit of Julie Andrews’ 1964 performance of the titular character. She’s great. “Can You Imagine That,” one of the songs not nominated for any awards, is my favorite of the film and due entirely to Blunt’s performance. She’s the most valuable player here. Oddly enough, beloved playwright and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda leaves much to be desired with a comically thick Cockney accent.
Bonus features include a deleted song, bloopers and deleted sequences.
The making-of documentaries are the cream of the crop. Actors, costume designers and animators all explain their approach to the musical numbers. “The Royal Doulton Music Hall,” which combines live action and classic animation, is by far one of the coolest to watch. Each song has a 10- to 15-minute short documentary. Although I wasn’t enamored with the film itself, I wish there were more of these making-of shorts.
Like most modern musicals, the Blu-ray release features a sing-along mode. I fondly remember growing up with old Disney sing-along VHS tapes; I discovered the original Poppins that way, so seeing something similar with the new movie was a nice dose of nostalgia and added to my appreciation of the music on the second go-around. Still few real earworms, but the effort is appreciable.