The world-famous magic nanny experiences it MARY POPPINS RETURNS a musical revival on the big screen. While the US critics rejoice, we are disillusioned. We reveal why in our review.
The Plot Summary
London in the 1930s, in the middle of the economic crisis: Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) has now grown up and works for the bank where his father was employed. He still lives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane with his now three children – Annabel (Pixie Davies), Georgie (Joel Dawson) and John (Nathanael Saleh) and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters). His sister Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) follows in her mother’s footsteps and advocates for workers’ rights. She also helps Michael’s family wherever she can. When they suffer a personal loss, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) magically re-enters the lives of the Banks family, and with the help of her friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), she is able to bring the joy and wonder back into their home.
Movie explanation of the ending
The partly biographical Mary Poppins novels by the American author PL Travers received an unprecedented film adaptation in 1964 under the Walt Disney Pictures brand. The ambivalent origin story was made into a film just a few years ago under the title “Saving Mr. Banks”. In it, director John Lee Hancock describes the relentless battle between the resolute writer and media mogul and producer Walt Disney, for whom no effort was too great to get the film rights. Over 50 years later, the floating nanny has long since become an international (pop) cultural asset. And as befits something like this, a sequel is coming to us these days that continues to tell Mary’s stories. This is what the marketing (the film is called “Mary Poppins Returns” for nothing) and the narrative approach suggest: While the first part took place shortly before the First World War, in the sequel we are now in 1930. And from Michael (Ben Whishaw ) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) have now become seasoned adults who are struggling with the economic crisis and have forgotten all the wisdom Mary gave them in the first part. But despite this clear narrative direction, “Mary Poppins Returns” feels primarily like a remake, which is primarily filled with songs that were dropped from the first part due to a lack of creativity. And there is little else that is successful in this live-action animated fairy tale, which at least has some technical finesse.
Jane (Emily Mortimer), Michael (Ben Whishaw), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) welcome Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt).
“Mary Poppins Returns” begins with a ten-minute sequence in which Mary Poppins’ friend and lamplighter (the sequel’s equivalent of the chimney sweep) cycles through sleepy London in the early hours of the morning while singing a dreamy song about the British capital. This song already reveals a crucial weakness of the sequel compared to the first part: Like all other musical numbers, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” is not easy on the ear. And for a musical that, as in this case, consists of 27 (some of which relate to each other or vary from time to time), such a sluggish opening is tantamount to a veritable death sentence. The fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press nominated “Mary Poppins Returns” for four Golden Globes, but not a single song was included, speaks exactly the meaningful volumes that we would like to fill. With the exception of the touching ballad “A Conversation”, in which Ben Whishaw’s character makes an emotional, tear-inducing declaration of love to his late wife, the film is musically largely inconsequential and mainly repeats successful models from part one. Representing this is the up-tempo number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic”, performed together by the city’s lamplighters, based on the chimney sweep’s happy tune “Chim Chim Cheree” – only without the catchy qualities and creativity of the original. In general, the musical orientation towards the first part is clearly evident. But instead of benefiting from the nostalgic value of the well-known melodies, when you watch and listen you only realize again and again that this new edition, which strives to be independent, never comes close to what Robert Stevenson wrote film history with in the mid-1960s.
He did this with a formidable technical implementation. “Mary Poppins” was one of the first feature films to combine live action with animated elements. Since we’ve already seen almost everything in terms of tricks in 2018, it wasn’t to be expected that “Mary Poppins Returns” would set new standards on this level – and it’s a good thing that the makers didn’t even try that. The scene in which two-dimensional animation is once again interwoven with the live action film turns out to be particularly visually intoxicating (it would have been easy to use contemporary CGI here). When Mary and the children jump into a broken vase and then walk on the edge of the vessel, with the footsteps clinking as if the figures were walking around on porcelain, then you rediscover the playful attention to detail of the original, even if the film is on Of course, there is nothing new at this point, just a new (albeit very successful) variation on well-known set pieces – and speaking of well-known: Rob Marshall’s courage to quote himself is remarkable. If a dance scene with Mary, Jack and a whole armada of cartoon animals is just one big allusion to Marshall’s musical classic “Chicago”, then it is surprising that the “Into the Woods” director received this directing license from the Disney company – after all, the film production company has nothing to do with “Chicago”.
The animated sequence is one of the best in Mary Poppins Returns.
Unfortunately, this sequence is an absolute exception. Otherwise, the makers rely on technical overkill here, which makes some scenes drift into the ridiculous (keyword: diving). David Magee’s script trains you for this (“Life of Pi: Shipwreck with Tiger”) in restraint. To a small extent, this should be understood as positive: “Mary Poppins Returns” does not rely on the “higher, faster, further” idea that is typical of Hollywood sequels, but rather remains true to the original. In addition to the interchangeability of the songs, that is exactly the film’s second big problem: in terms of structure, dramaturgy and message, the story only differs marginally from the one in part one. The tense political situation shortly before the First World War gives way to fear of the economic crisis, but otherwise Michael and Jane Banks, of all people, who should actually know better, make exactly the mistakes of their parents (even if the script at least explains this fact). The journey to knowledge follows the same stages – and Mary? Emily Blunt (“A Quite Place”) embodies the magical nanny with similar verve as Julie Andrews once did and thus proves to be the ideal choice. Her singing performances in particular are outstanding, even if her nanny sometimes acts a little harsher than the one in 1964. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has so far made little appearance in front of the camera, also cuts a good figure and hits the emotional core of the obvious role model Dick Van Dyke , who, by the way, has a small guest appearance in “Mary Poppins Returns” and proves that he has lost none of his energy and zest for life over the decades.
Conclusion: “Mary Poppins Returns” is less a sequel than a new edition and only very occasionally manages to set new accents. The songs don’t catch your ear and despite a great Emily Blunt and a fantastically designed animated live-action sequence based on part one, the magical nanny quietly says goodbye to insignificance.
“Mary Poppins Returns” can be seen in cinemas nationwide from December 20th.