Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
I really want to love this. It won’t come easily I fear. I generally hate reboots, sequels and I’m definitely getting more cynical. This though is pure fantasy, it’s Mary bloody Poppins after all. Non-sensical London etc. There’s little point in trying to tear holes in something like this, but the story has to be good, entertaining. The music has to be good too and it’s got some very big boots to fill. It starts remarkably well, Julie Walters instantly commanding the screen (as housemaid Ellen) and Ben Whishaw as a now grown up Micheal, being, well being Ben Whishaw, utterly charming. The story is okay, a twist on themes from before. George Banks’ obsession with the Bank and money, now translates to his offspring struggling with it, to the point of potentially losing the family home. Micheal has already lost his wife, leaving him with three predictably prim and adorable children. His sister Jane replaces her mother, the suffragette movement for labour rights. There’s lots of familiar markers to the original, The Admiral firing his hourly cannon. Finding the old kite in the loft (complete with a suffragette sash), I could go on and on... and probably will. The kite is the spark. Taking flight in the wind having been left out for the bin men. If you don’t smile as Emily Blunt (Poppins) makes her entrance, you’ve a heartless soul. She catches the kite in the clouds and floats into the Banks family’s life once again. Blunt is good. Let’s be clear she’s no Julie Andrews, but she’s a thankless task and performs it remarkably well. She has a lot of help of course, the talking parrot umbrella, the bottomless carpet bag and songs. Yes, the songs are up to scratch. Full of humour and delight. Now, to the effects. A lot has changed in 45 years of cinema. The ‘64 picture was groundbreaking, this isn’t, but it uses modern techniques wonderfully. Blunt sings well, although she did keep reminding me of Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show when she delivers the knowing lines with a wink. Back to the plot. The stuffy nature of the bank (still the root of evil in this world) is delivered here by Colin Firth, he’s the villainous presence determined to snatch the Banks home by underhand tactics. Saving the house is the children’s focus and the children are fabulous. Although the older boy kept reminding me of Damien from The Omen. It’s the hair I think. Essentially the film is a series of fantastical journies, excuses to go on adventures in a very vague ruse of finding a way to save the house. It takes a dark tone when the youngest child Georgie is kidnapped by the cartoon embodiment of Firth whilst at a cabaret taking place inside a broken China bowl. It’s a lovely sequence, possibly my favourite, although it does have stiff competition. Dick Van Dyke’s place is taken by Lin-Manuel Miranda slightly unsuccessfully, he’s the weak link. It’s not that he’s bad, he sings well, dances well, the accent is shit, but then so was and is Van Dyke’s. It’s just he seems to jar slightly with the rest of the cast. I’m probably being cruel and he did grow on me, but it took the entire film. Now I’ll get all the negatives out of the way, it’s not that this isn’t original, as much as it just borrows everything from its predecessor and after a while it gets a bit much. For me, it’s arriving at Cousin Topsy’s (Meryl Streep) that does it. Yet again we meet an acquaintance of Poppins, but instead of floating to the ceiling with laughter, the room itself turns upside down, without any reason from what I can gather. Streep is good, the set design is great, but well, meh. We get some kerfuffle in the bank and the chimney sweeps are replaced by a lamp-lighter assemble. These are often little nods, but I’m really not sure they’re needed, I’d rather they pushed a bit harder instead of relying on the blueprint so unashamedly. The comparisons are too easy and this always loses. The lamp-lighters are good, but a very poor substitute for the “Step in time” chimney sweeps. Enough of the negativity. It keeps the threat of losing the house at its core. The children trying to help their father, there’s genuine peril and the children are typically adorable. Especially Pixie Davies, who I spent a good 20 minutes trying to remember what I’d seen her in... it was the TV show ‘Humans’. As we gear up for the finale, I’m genuinely excited, sitting back, strapping in with a huge smile on my face. Eagerly awaiting Poppins and Co. putting that smug bastard Firth in his place. Which of course they do, with the help of Dick Van Dyke. Yes it’s ridiculously cheesy, over the top... and a bit nonsensical. But I’ll forgive any inadequacies for the final song with the balloons. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it’s the very definition of unadulterated joy. Is it as good as the original? No of course not, but I think children watching this today will find the magic here, just as we did all those years ago. Even this cynical bugger thought it was spit spot.