Yesterday I went with my niece and great-niece to see Mary Poppins Returns. We all have fond memories of the original Mary Poppins movie and we were looking forward to seeing the new one. These are my thoughts on it, but if you want to experience it without any prejudgements, please be aware that there are spoilers in this article.
This movie has everything going for it. It has great actors; lots of old familiar ones and a few newer ones. The film involves performers interacting with cartoons (just as in the original), ensemble dance routines, and some great songs. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, I’m not sure, but my guess would be that they tried to do too much, to include too many star actors, and to add in at least one too many unnecessary scenes. It felt as though it was planned by a committee, and everyone was allowed to include their wish list. So much so, that it is a long movie. If you go with children, be aware that it lasts more than two hours.
Aside from that, though, the film seems a little dark despite some very cheery songs. It may have something to do with the dark streets of London during The Great Depression (which, oddly, is called The Great Slump), or it may be that Mary Poppins is a little severe this time around. She becomes more fun when she adopts her Cockney alter-ego in the cartoon world, but in the BBC-accented human world, she is a bit too serious.
My niece pointed out that we didn’t leave the theatre singing. We didn’t feel easily drawn into the songs, and some of them were so complex that singing along would have been impossible anyway. There were several songs that were very densely packed with a mixture of Cockney slang and more familiar words, and they went by so fast that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate them. I feel as though I need to hear them repeatedly if I am to catch all the verbal jokes and jollity. I may have to buy the soundtrack for that to happen.
I did enjoy the dance routines that involved lamplighters with ladders and bicycles. They made brilliant use of stunt bike tricks, London parks, and lighting. I also enjoyed the plot development and the principal characters. The child actors were remarkably natural and enjoyable, and casting Colin Firth as the bad guy was a stroke of genius.
There was a long sequence involving Meryl Streep that was entertaining but completely superfluous, and which left a plot detail hanging and unresolved. If I had been on that committee I would have left that out, no matter how good the performances were.
On the plus side, Lin-Manuel Miranda was entirely convincing as a Cockney, which was a big relief for me. I have never really forgiven Dick van Dyke for his terrible accent in the original. I think that although this film is good, it would make an even better Broadway show, which is where several of the performers have their professional roots.
That said, I do think you should see it. It has some great performances, songs, and scenes. If you are looking for the same light-heartedness that you felt when watching the original Mary Poppins, you may be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you want to see some great actors in some great song and dance routines, you will love this.
[Edited to reflect that Lin-Manuel Miranda did not write the songs, but was one of the principal singers.]