By all means, I shouldn't like "Mary Poppins Returns."
I was really dreading this one. The whole idea of a decades after the fact "Mary Poppins" sequel left a sour feeling in my gut. This was intensified by the fact that we got "Saving Mr. Banks" a few years ago, and in hindsight, doesn't it feel like the Disney studio was testing the waters for interest in more Mary Poppins? A lot more Mary Poppins. Not as much more Mary Poppins as more Star Wars but still, more Mary Poppins.
(Side note that "Saving Mr. Banks" is also, just as a reminder, an almost completely fictionalized and, so help me God, masturbatory depiction of historical events. Where it turns out the Disney Studios version of P.L. Travers' stories is just the best and wasn't Walt Disney right all along and Travers was wrong and it's very good and right that Disney ignored all her criticisms and did his own thing despite her reservations, and by golly Travers even ended up loving the movie -she loved, loved, LOVED it! This is true because the Disney studios say so in their movie about the making of "Mary Poppins" and that's now the version of events everyone is going to assume is true and there's nothing you can do about it! I am not for even half of a second going to pretend that "Saving Mr. Banks" isn't gross.)
So anyway here we are with "Mary Poppins Returns". And it's... good! Look it was never going to be able to hold a candle (or gas lamp) to the original, but it is, all things considered, pretty good. I'll never understand why Rob Marshall is The Musical Guy at Disney (I mean I know why, it's cause of that one weird year "Chicago" swept the Oscars, but I'll never understand why), and I cannot fathom why you'd hire Lin-Manuel Miranda and not have him write a single song (and the songs are fine, mind, they got me laughing and crying and humming along and everything), but it's all good.
For sure the reason all of this works is Emily Blunt. The key is that her version of Mary Poppins is not different from Julie Andrews'; it's different from how everyone remembers Julie Andrews. Even in the original film, Mary Poppins was a bit of a trickster, gently sarcastic, mischievous, magical, and terribly mysterious. Chaotic Good, if you will. "I never explain anything," she says. Blunt's Poppins has a bit more of an edge though, and I can't help but wonder if it's because the adult Banks children don't seem to remember any of their wondrous whimsical adventures. (Which is a plot point that sticks in my craw. I don't think a tea party on the ceiling or a day out in an animated painting is something you just forget about.)
So how about the traditionally animated sequence then? It's absolutely wonderful! It's got a whole theater full of excellent character designs, a couple terrific songs, and it's over way, way too soon. It left me yearning for more. Man, some day some American studio's going to be brave enough to do a traditionally animated feature, I can only hope.
For more posts in this ongoing series, go here, or click the Chronological Disney Animated Canon tag below.