Seemingly the product of a committee of people who have not watched the original within the past 20 years, Mary Poppins Returns is an ADD-riddled caricature of its predecessor. While it would be easy to list a variety of faults, such as poor performances, illogical plot points, crowded narrative, 2-dimensional villains, having villains at all, forgettable songs, etc., I don’t think it would be fair. Really, all of these elements are only symptoms of 2 core failings of Mary Poppins Returns.
Firstly, the film is a cartoonish exaggeration of the essence of Mary Poppins. Everything from the visual style to the very narrative structure strives to capture the feeling of the classic work while completely overlooking the substance. Emily Blunt’s portrayal of Mary Poppins takes the performance of Julie Andrews and discards any element of reservation, subtlety, and thoughtfulness as she plows through the film. The structure is so busy trying to look and feel like Marry Poppins that it fails to give the audience a moment to stop and appreciate it. Mary Poppins Returns never stops moving long enough to be sincere.
Where this really hurts is in the lack of melancholy and emotional texture that defined Mary Poppins. What I remember best about Mary Poppins is how deeply sad she made me feel in ways that I didn’t understand, causing me to stop and consider my own emotions. Alan Moore once said that the challenge of revisiting works like this is that you can’t just make something that’s as good as or the same, but that you have to make it as good as people remember it. While the frantic exaggeration seems to miss what was really special, it is because the film is trying to capture how people remember feeling. I just wish that the creators had remembered feeling something more meaningful than, “Isn’t it wonderful, she’s flying!”
This flows very naturally into the next major failing: a failure to understand the nature of the type of conflict that made the original work. Mary Poppins Returns attempts to replace the deep personal drama of the challenges of remaining childlike in the face of the demands of an adult world with shallow and even nonsensical villains. All of the practical challenges faced in the original Mary Poppins are window dressing, the real problem is the relationship between Mr. Banks with himself and his children. When you solve their problems with magic, it doesn’t hurt the story because they’re not the real problems. The real problems Mr. Banks has to face are internal, and must be faced alone… they have weight and the audience feels them.
In Mary Poppins Returns, all of the internal problems are symptoms caused by the external problems. So, when Mary Poppins solves all of their problems with magic, because those conflicts are all it has, it removes any weight there is to the progress of the characters. There’s no value to their accomplishments because they’re never earned.
I hate being this negative. There’s plenty to enjoy in Mary Poppins Returns. It’s relatively inoffensive at its best moments and is generally pretty mediocre as family films go. Children and their parents will undoubtedly be entertained. It’s just unfortunate that it likely won’t leave the kind of deeply lasting complex mark on those children as the original did in its time.
Unfortunately, despite being relatively entertaining, Mary Poppins Returns also suffers from structural problems that compound the core areas where it fails systemically. The overall product is a film that may be enjoyed, but only in spite of the plethora of failings. Even if it looks good to you, check out almost any other family film right now. There’s a chance you’ll enjoy it, but you still deserve better.
|Final Verdict:||A structural mess that is systemically flawed. Give it a pass.|