“Mary Poppins Returns" Needs More Than Just a Spoonful of Sugar to Make it Go Down [Review]

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What can I say about this sequel to the 1963 Disney musical? Its forced whimsy most definitely did not have me at hello; from  “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” to “Nowhere to Go but Up,” I just wasn't won over. “Mary Poppins Returns” feels like a figment of another era, a film that felt like it should have been released in the 1960s. 

The story of recently widowed Michael Banks, the young kid from the original but now all grown-up and played by Ben Whishaw, has him close to broke and barely hanging on to the mortgage on his house. Of course, Michael is a fantastic father to his children — Annabel (Pixie Davis), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) — However, given that there are bills to be paid, he'd be lost without the assistance of housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) and sister Jane (Emily Mortimer).

Enter Mary Poppins (A delightful Emily Blunt) parachuting from the sky, courtesy of her ever-so-iconic umbrella, and taking on the role of nanny for the kids,. That is until dad can figure out a way to amass the money needed to prevent the family home on Cherry Tree Lane from going into the hands of Colin Firth's villanous William Wilkins, president of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. 

Director Rob Marshall’s nostalgic look back at a time when naivete was a thing barely has a plot, or, if it does a meandering one, that celebrates purity. “Mary Poppins Returns” is all about that aforementioned purity and nostalgia, a celebration of the past that dissolves into thin air once you finish watching it, much like Poppins' journey back to wherever she came from. This is Disney trying to bank, yet again, on people's positive perception of the past.

The film is immensely faithful to the original, a down-to-the-tee re-imagining of the exact formula that made the 1963 film a "classic." However, it’s long, unjustly clocking in at 131 minutes,  and kind of boring -- even when Meryl Streep, shows up for an unnecessary cameo as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy.

Of note, there is a particularly invigorating sequence, titled  “The Royal Doulton Music Hall,”  which is a mix of live-action and animation and is absolutely eye-popping to behold. A crack in a ceramic vase at the Banks household leads the kids and Poppins to plunging into the world depicted in the vase's carvings. It's an ingenious stretch that showcases what technology can offer within the cinematic medium and, of course, how Disney can use such advancements to their artistic advantage. Costumed as if they were animated characters, but still in live-action form, Poppins and the Banks kids enter the gorgeously drawn world of an old fashioned English Music Hall. It's as hallucinogenic and surreal as it sounds.