The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Mary Poppins Returns

My assumption is that many people will like Mary Poppins Returns a lot more than I did. But there are others who will agree with me, because not everyone is going to buy what's being sold here. Any way you look at it, this is designed to be a big, crowd-pleasing blockbuster. No expense has been spared in that regard. The money, as they say, is all up on the screen. What's distressing is that there isn't much else to it. For all the attempts to create enchantment, Mary Poppins Returns is a shockingly soulless affair.

Ben Wishaw plays Michael Banks. His wife has died and he now stands to lose the house where he lives with his three children, John (Nathanael Saleh), Georgie (Joel Dawson), and Annabel (Pixie Davies). Michael's sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) tries to offer support, but there's only so much she can do. True help arrives in the guise of his former nanny, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), who flies down from the sky one day on a kite. She helps tend to the children, while Michael tries to find the missing stock certificate that could get his debt erased. Lin-Manuel Miranda co-stars as Jack, a lamplighter who grows close to the family, Jane in particular.

Mary Poppins Begins starts off pleasantly enough. The dire stakes for the Banks family are established early on, and the appearance of Mary promises a spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down. In the film's first big musical number, she helps the children take a bath. They all dive into a tub full of bubbles, ending up in a large body of water filled with over-sized bath toys and dolphins who jump over their boat. Visually, the sequence is a treat, conveying a sense of wonder as the nanny shows the happily-dirty children that bathing can be fun.

Then a troubling thing happens. The movie tries to outdo that scene with the next musical number, which involves mixing live-action and hand-drawn animation. The third one tries to outdo the second. The fourth tries to outdo the third, and so on. Under the direction of Rob Marshall (Into the Woods), the picture is so intent on shoving its "magical" quality down your throat that it becomes rather annoying after a while.

Bigger is not always better. Whereas the bath sequence played on a whimsical vibe between Mary and the Banks children, the subsequent ones have little, if any, genuine relevance to the plot. It feels as though the emphasis was on imagining the most elaborate scenes possible, then forcing them in, like a square peg being shoved into a round hole. By the time Meryl Streep shows up -- wearing a costume that's Johnny Depp-ish in its weirdness -- for a cameo as Mary's cousin who lives in an upside-down world, the heart of the story seems utterly lost. And there's still another hour to go! Bland songs that lack memorability only contribute to the problem.

Non-musical scenes similarly become needlessly complex and showy. In spots, this creates noticeable gaps in logic. During one climactic scene, Jack and his fellow lamplighters put themselves in grave danger to help the Banks family, while Mary watches. When they are unable to succeed, she simply uses her magic to solve the problem. Why didn't she do that in the first place? The answer is sadly obvious -- it would have deprived Mary Poppins Returns of another chance to "dazzle" you with its scope.

Watching a movie whose energy level is on 10 the whole time proves exhausting. Nothing is simple. Every moment, every shot, every visual effect has been crafted to blow the audience's mind. Viewers who crave the emotional ebb and flow that is inherent in the best storytelling will find that Mary Poppins Returns wears out its welcome.

In all fairness, good qualities are present. Emily Blunt is outstanding as Mary, recapturing the vibe Julie Andrews originally brought to the role without doing a direct imitation. She's always fun to watch. Wishaw and Miranda do fine supporting work. Leaving aside its betrayal of the central tale, the production is very accomplished from a technical standpoint. It looks impressive, with gorgeous cinematography and seamless effects.

The 1964 Mary Poppins is certainly beloved for its wondrous nature. However, it served something bigger, namely addressing how the nanny taught her charges to use the power of imagination while simultaneously improving the relationship with their father. Mary Poppins Returns is only interested in the wondrous part, with which it repeatedly bludgeons the audience.

( 1/2 out of four)

Mary Poppins Returns is rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action . The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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