1.5/4, 2010s, Musical, Review

Mary Poppins Returns

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This was…frustrating. Emily Blunt is quite wonderful as the titular character, but there’s just so much that doesn’t really fit together around it, dragging the movie down until the end. I wanted to like this so much more than I did.

There are two main sources of my frustration with this film. The first are the numbers. The music is just simply not that good, delivered in muddled accents, with lyrics that don’t catch. There’s a level of complexity to the music that doesn’t lend itself to being catchy, a lack of simplicity that makes the music harder to remember. Maybe the techniques make the music more sophisticated, but it also makes it harder to recall. The other part is the dancing. The dancing itself is quite good, but after having just watched some Fred Astaire film a week before, I couldn’t help but realize that shots were constantly cut short right as rhythms were being established.

I noticed most forcefully in the “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” dance sequence. The set that the majority of the number is set feels like a large stage in a theatrical musical. It’s naturally built for long takes, but no shot lasts more than a couple of seconds. Most shots last less than half a second. There’s no time to appreciate the talent of the dancers as we cut from their feet to one of the stars to some hands flailing in the air to 1930s BMX bikers. It looks like the dancers are good, doing interesting moves, in the few clear shots we get, but those are so few and far between that I simply got, well, frustrated.

The second source of major frustration was the story itself. I think its focus is far too centered on the plot of the film dealing with the now adult Banks children falling into debt with the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank (which the adult Michael now works for as a teller) and having five days to pay back the loan in full. There is also a pressing need to find their father’s original stock certificate in the bank, which could clear the loan. Michael’s children end up on a mission to find the stock certificate by going on adventures into a painted bowl, an upsidedown room of Mary Poppins’ cousin, and swimming in an underwater world through the bathtub. This tie to the plot undermines the fun of the adventures, I think.

That comes to the fore in the adventure in the china bowl. The animation is quite nice. There’s a musical number about reading books which is…okay, I guess. And then one of the children gets kidnapped by some nefarious cartoon characters for…reasons, and we get a chase. The chase is technically well done, but it’s such a weird turn tonally and seems to serve little narrative purpose. We do see that the wolf who leads the kidnappers and Colin Firth, the dastardly head of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, use the same pocket watch, implying that they are extensions of each other, but that doesn’t make much sense since the children have never met him up to that point. I suppose there’s the “everything is possible, even the impossible,” feeding into that, but that idea is never really followed through in the film (despite being said several times).

There seems to be an effort to tie everything together more tightly through plot than we got in the first film, but the dreary plot of loans and stock certificates drags the action down in what seems to be a lighter affair. There’s no real attempt to deal with financial decisions (correctly, since this is a movie aimed at children), but why are they there in the first place? You have enough of a character hook with Michael’s widowed status to hang a story off of. Instead of getting bogged down in financials, deal with the emotional angle of the family’s unspoken of sadness. It’s cleaner, and it doesn’t create an antagonist with a life long mission of…owning a random house in London?

I liked small pieces of this movie, but too much got cut up in over-active editing and the story feels really mismatched with what kind of movie it wants to be. The steady descent of my opinion as the movie went on was unmistakable. I was disappointed, and frustrated.

Netflix Rating: 2/5

Quality Rating: 1.5/4

2 thoughts on “Mary Poppins Returns”

  1. The original Mary Poppins worked because it was a character story first, the plot and them (saving Mr. Banks) was in the background. You have to introduce and make people love the characters, then you can have them go on adventures without laying on the story in a heavy-handed fashion.

    It sounds like the filmmakers, from the writers on down, didn’t get what made Mary Poppins magical.

    I’ve avoided it so far, maybe I’ll stick with that. Dunno.


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