Skip to main content

I think we’re in china, so to speak.

Mary Poppins Returns
(2018)

(SPOILERS) This 54-years-later sequel has to be admired for its dedication to replicating the look and flavour of the beloved Julie Andrews original, and it gets several elements very right – most importantly the recasting of the title role – but the side-effect of such devotion is that its comparative deficiencies are unflatteringly laid bare for all to see. Most particularly, the songs. They don't outright suck, but only one of them is remotely memorable, and you need them to be if you're to make the all-too wholesome medicine go down. The other biggie is Rob Marshall, the choreographer who rose to the status of sought-after Hollywood director while exhibiting negligible discernible talent in the field. He's certainly no Bob Fosse.


Indeed, Marshall's foursquare direction is only remarkable for how pervasively unremarkable it is. Any point where the film might potentially take off (and characters do so quite consistently), he's there reigning in any flight in by treating the whole endeavour as if its bound by the limitations of the stage. And that isn't him diligently adopting the approach of 1964; he's always been this uninspired. As such, that the picture is as watchable as it is, and even approaches a measure of dramatic engagement during the final half hour or so, can't really be attributed to his (lack of) efforts; rather, the stop-start listlessness that characterises the first hour is exactly the flavour you'd expect.


Notably, to get this made, Disney had to wait until PL Travers was no longer alive and objecting to a sequel (she hadn't liked the first movie, and rejected a proposed follow up both subsequent to its release and twenty years later when Jeffrey Katzenberg floated the idea again, his being much along the lines of the one we've got). Ruthless Mouse House cutthroats who'd trample over someone's dying wishes (her will didn’t explicitly say a sequel wasn't to be made, despite some sources stating otherwise, but it's pretty certain she'd have vetoed it if still alive)? Never. Just watch Saving Mr Banks to get their sanitised, official version of Travers for evidence.


There are nods to her novels – Mary returns attached to a kite per first sequel Mary Poppins Comes Back – but Mary Poppins Returns focusses on Michael's trio of kids requiring a super nanny's sure touch this time, along with her restoring bereaved dad (Ben Whishaw) with his lost brio and joy. Oh, and matchmaking for sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) with Dick van Dyke substitute Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda). 


All fairly straightforward then, even more so through signposting the solution to the Banks' financial woes almost immediately (some elusive inherited shares in the bank Michael works for – only in something written expressly for kids, as their little monkeys and won't notice goes the thinking, would you get the head of the household ignoring an obvious financial solution for a whole year, leading to the imminent disenfranchisement of his children). I suppose, yes, the deus ex van Dyke of the final scene – not that the nanny isn't one floating finger-snapping Mary ex machina herself – provides the actual solution, since he made some investments on Michael's behalf, but none of it is very edge-of-the-seat.


The closest we get is a turn-back-the-clock sequence as Jack scales Big Ben to prevent arch rotter Colin Firth from snatching the house away at midnight. Which ultimately comes to nowt as Mary has to intervene (one might ask why she didn't just do that in the first place, but I guess nannies works in mysterious ways). 


The best sequence, though, is the embrace of original-evoking traditional animation as Mary and Jack accompany the kids into an antique china bowl, complete with Firth voicing a nefarious, kidnapping wolf. Another underwater number is much less successful, and suggests Marshall would have been wise to consult James Wan about simulating sub-aqua moves.


The best song meanwhile – as noted, there aren’t many contenders – is the leerie-infused Trip a Little Light Fantastic. And while the choreography throughout is fine, without the accompanying creativity with the camera it isn’t as memorable as it ought to be. 


It's fortunate then that with Blunt and Miranda as leads, the picture instils a lot of goodwill straight off the bat. Blunt is perfect, very proper, mischievous with a straight face, and appealingly vain; I can't say I was ever Julie Andrews' greatest fan, so her lack of a cameo didn't leave me wanting. I could have done without Angela Lansbury too, to be honest (although I have to admit she still has a fair set of pipes). Van Dyke gets a free pass, though, and it's impressive to see his knees still function. David Warner's returning Admiral Boom is an extended side gag that consistently fails to land, alas. 


Miranda is suitably chirpy, and his mockney appealing, if understandably less absurd than Van Dyke’s was. Firth's villainy has a certain clipped relish. Julie Walters plays exactly the same part she's been playing for the past twenty years, while Meryl Streep appears because she’s contracted to appear in all movies form now until the end of time. 


As for grownup Michael and Jane, Mortimer is hugely appealing, but unfortunately Whishaw delivers a rare bust, either wretchedly maudlin or obnoxiously authoritarian, and so unable able to elicit a through line of empathy for his predicament. Even at the end, when he comes over all jubilant, it doesn’t feel authentic; alas, he's no David Tomlinson when it comes to essaying the passage from uptight to relaxed. The kids are fine for the most part, although I nearly broke ranks and fled for the exit when moppet Georgie (Joel Dawson) launched into a heartfelt solo.


The buzz surrounding this sequel suggested it would break the bank, some even projecting a Best Picture Oscar nomination, but I can't see either of those things happening (albeit, it may well have the legs do very respectably at the box office). Mary Poppins Returns is overlong and sloppily paced, without the songs to do its performers justice. It isn't a problem that it's trying so hard evoke the innocent Disney vibe of yesteryear (I can't remember the last time I went to see a U certificate), but rather that it isn't trying hard enough elsewhere. 



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

The Reverend Thomas says you wet his trousers.

Double Bunk (1961) (SPOILERS) In casting terms, Double Bunk could be a sequel to the previous year’s magnificent School for Scoundrels . This time, Ian Carmichael and Janette Scott (he still almost twice her age) are wedded, and the former continues to make dumb choices. Despite being an unlikely mechanic, Carmichael allows himself to be sold a lemon of a houseboat; last time it was the Nifty Nine. And Dennis Price is once again on hand, trying to fleece him in various ways. Indeed, the screenplay might not be a patch on School for Scoundrels , but with Sid James and the fabulous Liz Fraser also on board, the casting can’t be faulted.