December 28, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns is a Worthy Film On Its Own

Straight to the point: I'm definitely a Mary Poppins purist, but there's absolutely nothing that should stop you from seeing the new film and even less to stop you from fully enjoying it. Yes, it's that good.

How does Emily Blunt compare to Julie Andrews? That is the question on everyone's mind when it comes to discussing Mary Poppins Returns. Quite well, actually. When she acts, it's a solid and charming performance that keeps the movie buzzing along. Ah, but when she sings, Emily Blunt proves why no one else could have pulled off the feat of reinventing the role all the while honoring it. A delicate balance to be sure.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's sidekick Jack is perfectly cast. Jack gets as little backstory as Bert did in the original. No matter. He's there to add to the goodwill and fun, and he succeeds by complementing and not upstaging his co-star. He's a bright presence in a film that has many more darker moments than the original. When Miranda sings and dances, the magic is there. Trip A Little Light Fantastic is an instant classic, and I'm sure Disney Parks fans will be hearing it for decades to come. But it's not the most impactful dance number.

In an expected moment of sentimental brilliance wisely placed toward the end of the film, Dick Van Dyke temporarily steals the movie. Seeing him on the screen brought tears to my eyes. When I told my young grandson that same actor played Bert in the original and asked if he had recognized him, the response was priceless: "I didn't know it was him until I looked into his eyes." Not bad insight for a six year old.

Angela Lansbury's beautifully sung No Where to Go But Up was another lovely moment on screen, but it made me realize so there are so few people in the profession that can hold a candle to the artistry that came in a different time and place, a time when professionalism and class were more important than making a quick buck or a social statement. (On that note, there's none of the gay character silliness in a family film to worry about here. This is a film suitable for all ages without having to explain sexual preferences.)

The much talked about segments with Meryl Streep and Colin Firth   amounted to little. Streep should have been cut entirely from the film- she's obnoxious on screen (as well as off) here, adding nothing important to the story. On the other hand, Firth is unexpected in his role, adding villain to his impressive list of credits. 

The music from Mary Poppins Returns generally cannot compete with the original, maybe in 50 years, but it does many have bright spots. Composer Marc Shaiman does a fine job with the music, but some of the song lyrics written by Scott Wittman are not as easily sung or remembered as those in the 1964 film. Can You Imagine That? stands out as among the best of all the upbeat numbers and pop ballads with its slight snap, but The Place Where Lost Things Go is very sweet and reminds us that Mary Poppins can also be gentle when its needed. 

The Sherman Brothers - songwriters on the first film- were experts at making simple memorable and appealing. Maybe I'm just being tough on the soundtrack, but there's not as many here as memorable as the ones you remember from your youth. Yet, the songs grow on you the more you hear them- much as this film will!

The huge task before the filmmakers was to create a new classic without comparisons to the old. The film is a huge success on many levels, and it is worth seeing once even twice in the theaters. A film such as this doesn't come along all that often, and it deserves a large screen appreciate all the pleasures it offers. It will be a welcome addition to your DVD collection.

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