Walking into the theatre, I was eager to see the continuation of the Mary Poppins tale. As it turns out, Mary Poppins Returns is less of a remake than it is a sequel. In the film, Michael and Jane Banks, the children from Mary Poppins (1964) are grown up and are the father and aunt to three young Banks children, Annabel, John, and Georgie. While this written continuation of the original plot is clever, overall, the film lacks rising action, and thus struggles to maintain viewers’ attention or interest. That said, the costume design, surprise cameos, and heartwarming moral messages throughout the film make Mary Poppins Returns a charming watch. Both young audiences eager to meet Mary Poppins for the first time, and those viewers looking to be reacquainted with their favorite enchanted nanny, will likely be happy with this mystical musical adventure.
Immediately after lamplighter Jack’s (Lin-Manuel Miranda) first solo song, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sly,” the predicament of the Banks family’s house being posted for repossession is introduced. While the issue is grave, manifesting as a nearing deadline to the day of repossession, the plotline lacks complications that raise the stakes. As a result, viewers are dragged on a long, drawn-out tow-line through the sluggishness of a single predicament throughout the entirety of the film. Still, there were several other factors outside of the plotline that saved the film from falling victim to the absence of intriguing conflict.
First and foremost, Sandy Powell must be applauded for her visionary costume design throughout the film. While costumes aren’t something I am usually attentive to in a movie, the costumes in Mary Poppins Returns simply could not be ignored. Particular kudos must be paid to the porcelain bowl scene, in which Mary Poppins, Jack, and the three Banks children enter the animated world of their mother’s cracked china bowl. The painted looks in these half-animated, half-real scenes created an illusion that made it difficult to discern which ones were animated or real themselves. Another visually pleasing costume was Cousin Topsy’s. The gypsy-like garment, which excellently complimented the topsy-turvy set, accentuated Meryl Streep’s performance as Mary Poppins’ kooky cousin.
Along with three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep’s cameo, Mary Poppins Returns has a plethora of other familiar faces that make their long-awaited return to the big screen. To preserve the surprise for those readers who have yet to watch the film, I’ll keep some of these cameos under wraps. However, two cameos that should not be missed are Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Jr. and the brief sighting of Karen Dotrice. Both actors make their return from 1964’s Mary Poppins, in which Van Dyke played Bert the Chimney Sweep and Dotrice debuted as the young Jane Banks.
While the plot slightly drags, Mary Poppins Returns proves to have more to offer than drama. Good-natured morals are woven rhythmically into the lyrics of each song, making the film a perfect watch for this holiday season.