In my view, any film that includes Dick Van Dyke is a “must see” film.  Unfortunately, I had to sit through more than two hours of a goopy movie before VanDyke showed up for a tiny cameo and a few seconds of dancing on a desk, near the end of the film.  But even at 91, white-haired and bearded, he is still lean and nimble and delightful.

However, it wasn’t enough to save a film that has no there there.  “Mary Poppins Returns” is not worth the trip.  Ostensibly, Mary Poppins shows up, flying in by kite, to help the Banks family through a serious time of crisis: “The Big Slump,’” as the Brits called the Depression of the 1930s. 

In the previous generation the luminous Julie Andrews had turned up as the nanny for the young Michael Banks and his sister Jane.  Now Emily Blunt, as the returning Mary Poppins, is on hand to help the grown-up Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) cope with the recent loss of his wife and the pending loss of the family home to the evil banker, Colin Firth.

As directed by Rob Marshall, Blunt can’t seem to reconcile her persona between brusque and bossy and smugly “adorable”.  She does have a sweet voice, however, but the songs are a far cry from the all-time greats provided by Richard and Robert Sherman for the original “Mary Poppins”.  The current songs, by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, are unmemorable and unsingable.  They haven’t the pizzazz of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious nor the joie de vivre of Chim Chim Cheree… They are simply lumpy and tuneless.  Although the opening number, “Lovely London Sky” accompanies a dazzling showcase of London buildings and streets at their very best.  And “The Place Where Lost Things Go” is the family’s poignant tribute to a missing and much-loved mother.

Three bright spots in this cheerless ensemble are the three Banks children: the twins, Anabel (Pixie Davies), and John (Nathanael Saleh), and their small  rambunctious brother, Georgie (Joel Dawson).  They enliven the imaginative technicolor adventures that they enjoy with their nanny.  Such as the lovely underwater fantasy that they dive to from their bathtub.  Or the ride through the bumpy terrain with a crew of hand-drawn animated animals to get their broken Royal Daulton bowl repaired by Mary’s Russian-accented cousin.  And that cousin who sings and dances and hangs upside down is none other than that jack-of-all-accents, Meryl Streep.

(And in case you didn’t recognize her, the lady handing out balloons at the fair is Angela Lansbury.)

And let us not forget Lin-Manuel Miranda playing the lamplighter Jack, the part Dick Van Dyke played in the original “Mary Poppins.”  Compared to the ebullient and forever-bouncy Van Dyke, Miranda was a bit subdued.  He sang without much zest, although his dancing was first-rate.  As was the chorus of his fellow lamplighters, who kicked up their heels beside him. 

Happily, the screenplay by David Magee, Rob Marshall, and John DeLuca somewhat redeems the goulash they’ve made of the script by including a feel-good sequence to end the film.  It’s a number called “There’s Nowhere To Go But Up” which will probably be the title of the next Mary Poppins movie.  If they don’t call it “Mary Poppins Returns Again”.

And to end with, there are the well-documented stories of how difficult and demanding P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, was to work with.  She drove Walt Disney into near-apoplexy, and herself as well, when she became aware that the studio had had the audacity to add two animated penguins into the middle of a dance sequence.  If she were alive now to see this new version of her classic children’s tale, her hair would probably burst into flames!

“Mary Poppins Returns” is currently playing on Netflix, On Demand, and on You Tube.

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  1. Totally agree with your review. Rented it and was disappointed. Only watched about a third of it.

  2. I feel bad for anyone that goes by these reviews … this movie was well done and very entertaining. A great family movie and those are hard to find.

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