Mary Poppins Returns
Returning to Inner Childhood
By Casey Lee
How long is too long to wait for a sequel? Shortly after the beloved adaptation to P.L. Travers books about the eponymous nanny in 1964, Walt Disney was never able to secure the approval for a sequel from the author, who did not take the adaptation too kindly, except for Julie Andrews as the titular character. Five decades and generations later, as times have changed, the Travers estate and the ‘Mouse House’ are finally able to come to an agreement for a sequel, to imprint on a new generation of children who wished they had a magical nanny who came by the wind.
Opening under the grey-lit sky of the Great Depression, as folks of London (both the working class and those who can still afford to live on Cherry Tree Lane) meander to find food and jobs, we find the elder Banks have since passed on, and passed down the family home to the grown-up Jane and Michael. Although less uptight and precise than his father, grown-up Michael has pretty much forgotten his times with Mary Poppins, as he shoulders on the responsibilities of being a sole parent, left behind by his late wife, and provider for his three children, as a teller in the very bank his father worked for. When trouble comes knocking in the form of lawyers seeking to repossess the home due to Michael's failure to pay back a loan, the Banks are once again in turmoil with an uncertain future, enough to warrant a visit from the nanny.
Whether the agreement for a sequel came with conditions for Disney, Mary Poppins Returns is the literal and figurative interpretation by Oscar Best Picture-maker director Rob Marshall, who seems to be more concerned in making a sequel that lives up to its name, than making a sequel worthy of what is deemed as one of Hollywood's musical treasures. Apart from the polished dance routines, tight choreography, a little jazzy swing to the songs and a more competent cast of actors from child to adults, it feels safely familiar as though it was hoping that those who would see Mary Poppins Returns did not blow off the dust on their VHS before coming.
The 50-year gap does come with some perks, while still maintaining some traditions. The updated visuals of sprawling London elevate the scale from just humble canvas paintings. The imaginary worlds in china bowls or bathtubs swim more seamlessly with the live actors than rudimentary rotoscoping, and a braver choreography in a larger sound stage upstages whatever an army of chimney sweeps could ever muster. Emily Blunt reincarnates into Mary Poppins with a little more bite to take hold of, especially the twins with a more sensible (or 'logical') head on their shoulders than Michael did when he was their age. But for technical innovation, it doesn't bring that much more; dishing out life lessons we've heard before through different lyrics, under not so different circumstances.
While Mary Poppins Returns taste like a good spoonful of sugar, it doesn't let the medicine that Travers or Disney are not willing to take this beloved character further go down as easily (even though there is nowhere to go but up from here). But some of us would much prefer reminder, rather than a sequel, can you imagine that?