'Mary Poppins Returns': What the Critics Are Saying
How does the reboot compare to the 1964 original? Critics give their take.
The reviews are in for Disney's Mary Poppins Returns, and critics are getting a glimpse of nostalgia.
A sequel 54 years in the making, the film centers on the lives of grown-up Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw). After the death of Michael's wife, Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to help raise the new generation of Banks children, enlisting help from street lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda).
The Rob Marshall-directed film also stars Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson, Nathanael Saleh, Angela Lansbury, and David Warner. Original star Dick Van Dyke also reprises his role as Mr. Dawes Jr.
While it is admittedly tough to follow the 1964 classic (Mary Poppins is often recognized as Disney's biggest box office success), The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney found the sequel as one that "delivers both nostalgia and novelty."
Further describing the film as a "charmer only cynics could resist," Rooney writes that the follow-up embodies the traditional Disney formula which "combines the joy and imagination of childhood with an underlay of melancholy." The "old-fashioned, honest sentimentality" will keep audiences happy, as the pic pays homage to the original by abiding by the source material, such as the opening painting titles.
As to whether Blunt adequately fills Julie Andrews' shoes, Rooney writes that the actress is a "worthy successor" as she exudes an "unmistakable warmth" with her role. Meanwhile, despite Rooney considering Miranda a "casting wild card," the Hamilton creator is a "snug fit, bringing a pleasingly gentle manner and a twinkle in his eye that makes him just as beguiled by Mary Poppins' mad skills as the children."
Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times, however, disagrees on the movie's success. In his scathing review, Chang writes, "As it is, so much obvious care has been taken to reproduce and update the charms of the Robert Stevenson-directed original — to deliver an old-fashioned yet newfangled burst of family-friendly uplift — that Mary Poppins Returns winds up feeling both hyperactive and paralyzed. It sits there flailing on the screen, bright, gaudy and mirthless, tossing off strained bits of comic business and all but strangling itself with its own good cheer."
Although he concedes that the film and its cast do try, "not even Blunt’s pleasant singing and snappy rejoinders can make this stilted characterization spring fully to life." He calls the score "as hardworking as it is monotonous," but praises Sandy Powell's "gorgeous" costumes.
Over at USA Today, Brian Truitt calls the sequel "perfectly fine." He says that while the film is no match for the original from a narrative standpoint, "the new Mary adds new songs and multitalented charisma machine Lin-Manuel Miranda to the mix for one undoubtedly comforting nostalgia-fest." Truitt gives special mentions to Marc Shaiman's score — which he calls a "swinging delight" — and the highlight of the pic, a sequence "with talking animals that seamlessly combines live-action and hand-drawn animation as Blunt playfully growls through 'The Royal Doulton Music Hall,' then grabs a bowler hat and cane with Miranda as they sing and dance (and rap!) alongside tux-clad penguins for 'A Cover Is Not the Book.'"
Meanwhile, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian considered Mary Poppins Returns an “almost scarily accomplished clone-pastiche of the original," further describing it as a "spoonful of state-of-the-art genetically modified sweetener." However, Bradshaw notes that the film does have a "contemporary hint" with ethnic diversity in the supporting cast. The critic also notes that Blunt is a "subtly more worldly and droll-looking" predecessor to Andrews, whereas Miranda can do a "decentish Cockney accent" with his role as "Bert 2.0."
With the same familiarity as the original, Bradshaw writes that "diehard fans of the first film will very probably love this sequel" due to its “undoubted detail and fervor.” Though he found the movie to embody more of a "Broadway feel than it had in 1964," Mary Poppins Returns acts as a "machine for creating nostalgia."
IGN's Laura Prudom finds that although the pic "trips itself up by relying a little too heavily on your nostalgia for the original," it ultimately is an enjoyable film. "What stands out most about Mary Poppins Returns is its heart; even more than the original, it opts for sentimentality over subtlety, but much like this year’s equally charming Paddington 2, its earnest intentions never tip it too far into eye-roll territory," she writes.
Of the film's leading lady, Prudom notes that Blunt's version of Mary is different to Andrews' version, but the changes benefit the new effort. Blunt's Mary is "a sterner (and hilariously, vainer) Mary, more in line with P.L. Travers’s books, but also adds gravitas to the film’s more emotional moments — and there are a few." Prudom says that while it takes a while to warm up to Mary Poppins Returns, an animated sequence with the children makes things click. "From that point on, we have a better sense of Mary’s true self as she allows the children to see beneath her prim and proper exterior, and Blunt confidently makes the role her own with a little more sass than Andrews likely would’ve been allowed to portray in 1964," Prudom concludes.
Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson also celebrated Blunt as being the "right person to take the umbrella from Julie Andrews" because she is not only “deferent to the original," but is able to make things "her own" with "unquestioned confidence" in this modern sequel. Though similar to Andrews’ take, Lawson considered Blunt’s portrayal as "almost sinister" but something that was suitable for the times "both of the film and our own era." "A Mary that was too sugary might seem out of place in an era of irony and unease,” he writes.
Lawson also describes the film as being "cozily familiar for those who grew up on similar aesthetics" and having the ability to "keep little ones enrapt" with its song and dance routines. However, a problem he note, was found in how the melodies can "blur together into one ill-defined mass" with nothing being "distinct enough," in particular with Miranda’s showcase number that "falls short." Nonetheless, Lawson writes that Mary Poppins Returns continues to deliver a “joyful and buoyant finale" that left a tear in his eye. "It’s all a bit blinkered, maybe, but why not let the kids figure that out later? The air will go out of the balloon eventually; the magic of Mary Poppins will leave us. For a moment, though, a lovely little drift toward better days proves perfectly welcome," he concludes.
For Dana Stevens of Slate, Mary Poppins was a film that could be categorized as an "industry dinosaur" and "industry unicorn" and, because of that, any sequel would need to be “much humbler and easier to achieve,” with Mary Poppins Returns accomplishing that. Stevens further writes that the movie is needed for what has been a “long, anxious year” as it offers a "warm blanket of family entertainment, a nice place to go with our kids or parents or grandparents some chilly afternoon after the presents are opened and the latkes consumed."
A reason Mary Poppins Returns "delivers on all fronts" is accredited to the casting, which Stevens says "is practically perfect in every way," with Blunt being an “unfazeable nanny” and Van Dyke's role reprisal leaving “cranky critics” to “burst into applause.” Stevens also found the songs by Shaiman and Scott Wittman as “clever and hummable” and the film’s “evocation of London” to be “playful and painterly.” While the film “depends perhaps a bit too much on our lasting goodwill for the first one," Stevens argues that it "provides enough pleasure on its own to leave us hoping it won’t be 54 years until that familiar prim figure makes her next appearance through an opening in the clouds.”
Across the pond, BBC critic Nicholas Barber also noted the change in Mary's character; his feelings on it, however, were more mixed. "Sensibly, Blunt doesn’t impersonate Andrews. Less sensibly, she impersonates Maggie Smith: her haughty, upper-crust Mary would be right at home in Downtown Abbey. But otherwise, Mary Poppins Returns is so similar to its predecessor as to be almost identical," he writes.
And, although Barber says Blunt is "superb," he ultimately finds that "she doesn’t have the indomitable confidence, the twinkling warmth or the pristine singing voice that Andrews had." Similarly, he writes that Miranda "seems half-asleep compared to the effervescent Van Dyke — and his Cockney accent isn’t much more accurate than Van Dyke’s was, either."
"But it’s no surprise that Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t reach the highest heights of Mary Poppins: the surprise is how close it gets," Barber concludes. "A lively, colourful and big-hearted musical, it may lack a spark of originality, but it’s better than most children’s films. It’s just not as good as the children’s film it is trying so hard to be."
Meanwhile, David Ehrlich of IndieWire did not share the same positive sentiments as others, calling the sequel a "sleepy rehash" that relates to that of a "meandering stroll compared to the manic spirits of others family movies these days." He further describes the sequel as one that would bore the “minions into submission,” given that though the film aims to embody a sense of nostalgia, there’s a "fine line between 'nostalgic' and 'out of touch."
Ehrlich further argues that Mary Poppins Returns lacks the ability to recapture the "general Poppins vibe" by leaving audiences "haunted" by its songs and an unimpressive appearance by Meryl Streep, whom he describes as a character that was cut out of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland for “being too much.” Despite the new film having "familiar" components to the original, the critic asserts that the "the best things" are also on the verge of “being forgotten": "Mary Poppins may steel the Banks children for the future, but her perfunctory new adventure only leaves us wishing to return to the way things were."