“Mary Poppins Returns” Reviewed
The odd thing about time is that the beginning of homo sapien was an eyeblink away, and last year was the big bang. The endless, irrevocableness of time is a magician intersection of space and object over and over again, and once it has passed it is all, irrevocably, gone and as far gone as the first or the latest moment passed. It is all the same. And that is why sequels of beloved children’s entertainment, like “Mary Poppins” can’t be tapped in to properly. It is almost silly to claim “Mary Poppins Returns” isn’t as good as the original, how can it be? It can’t reach back, however hard it tries. But the hope is that, like the scent of an old lover’s perfume that lingers in the air from a passing stranger, it can tug you a little, it can bring you back to a moment and a place: something, somewhere, is left. And “Mary Poppins Returns,” for all its myriad of weaknesses, it really isn’t very good, manages just the slightest whiff in the air of what was.
Some thirty, years after “Mary Poppins” takes her leave of the Banks children, Mary returns is no longer Julie Andrews (who, very intelligently, turned down a cameo), but Emily Blunt, who lives up to her name in failing the charm test: Emily is brusque, and proper, and does a game cockney accent during the set piece stand in animation/live action for “”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” on “The Cover Is Not The Book”. It isn’t bad, along with the movie opener “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky,” quite good and Marc Shaiman, with song lyrics written by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, do as credible a job as they can, it is just… it isn’t good enough. Shaiman is no hack, he wrote the music to Hairspray after all and deserves our love and praise for “Good Morning, Baltimore”, but there is nothing for it. Nobody REALLY expected the songs to be as good, nobody expected anything to be as good, but a little better than this, it isn’t that the words and music to “MPR” isn’t as good as the original, it is that it isn’t as good “Bedknobs And Broomsticks” or “Beauty And The Beast” -it is alright, not unpleasant, though the tedious heart stirring of “A Conversation” or “The Place Where Things Go” is inexcusable.
So in the 1930s the Banks children, Michael is portrayed by Ben Whishaw as a wet of the first order widower, snapping at his children because he is too stupid to remember to pay the mortgage on 17 Cherry Tree Lane, and with three children to tend for, is about to get evicted. Meanwhile Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), is a spinster. If all this sounds relentlessly miserable, it is. Sure, Walt Disney knew that children could deal with heartbreak, but he also knew it took a spoonful of sugar, and there is a happy ending, but no happiness getting there. In a mistake of the first order, the children’s trip to the world of animation, that was ended by rain in “Mary Poppins.” is ended in a nightmare in “Mary Poppins Returns”. Why would they do that?
Luckily, there is Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the lamplighter, who has a delightful smile, and might have some fireworks with Jane if someone had done something other than give her a bit of her Mommy’s suffragette spirit. Jane is underwritten, Michael is a bore, the three children are severely underwritten, the movie is a series of echoes from the original. Here and there it elicits a tug of memory, but then it is gone, like perfume in the air, and yesterday.