Film Review: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’: Hogwarts Alum Can’t Save Sequel

By Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
December 23, 2018 Updated: December 27, 2018

PG | 2h 10min | Comedy, Family, Fantasy | 19 December 2018 (USA)

While scrolling Facebook a year ago, I saw a post that asked, “Did Mary Poppins go to Hogwarts?” After exactly one second of reflection, I “liked” it and then felt deeply compelled to comment: “Duh?”

I mean, it’s just obvious. The Brits and their magical stuff, all those horcrux-y things they have. Like Excalibur. And the ceremonial mace (A King Charles II horcrux, apparently) that, by its mere presence, ensures that things run smoothly in the house of Parliament until, like recently, someone scandalously tries to run out of the building with it. Which is an extremely Monty Python thing to do. And then of course, there’s Tolkien’s One Ring, which is a dark-lord horcrux. And then there’s the other dark lord, Voldemort’s horcruxes.

And so Mary Poppins’s flying parrot umbrella that talks? That’s a disguised Hogwarts magic wand if I ever saw one. What else would it be? Merry England is very magical.

The Banks nanny job was probably Mary’s first gig out of Hogwarts, so since the movie came out in 1964, that would make her Hogwarts class of ’63. Oh wait—the whole story took place early in the last century. Hmm … class of 1913, maybe? Well, no matter. She never ages anyway.

Mary Poppins in blue suit and red hat
Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins in “Mary Poppins Returns.” (Disney)

Is ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ a Magical Movie?

Let me come back to saying whether there’s magic. Actually, I better get it over with right now: Using the words of Monty Python’s “Did you dress up this witch?” scene, if you ask me whether “Mary Poppins Returns” is magical, I will say … “No. Yes. A bit, a bit.”

The thin plot focuses on the Banks family’s frantic search for missing bank stock certificates necessary to avoid foreclosure on the heirloom Banks family home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, all of which is just depressing.

Young Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is all grown up now, his parents long gone, and he’s recently widowed with three young mouths to feed, and in a shaky state of employment. That’s depressing too.

Mary Poppins and Banks children walk down the street
(L–R) Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) and her new charges Annabel Banks (Pixie Davies), John Banks (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie Banks (Joel Dawson) start out on an outing. (Disney)

Even more depressing is the fact that Michael, like Disney’s recent, all-grown-up Christopher Robin, who thought Pooh and Piglet were figments of his childhood imagination, is now similarly under the impression that Mary Poppins’s magical mystery tour of their childhood home was largely rubbish.

Mary Poppins returns to the Banks's home
(L–R) Jane (Emily Mortimer), Michael (Ben Whishaw), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson) greet Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) upon her return to the Banks’s home. (Disney)

Sister Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) is a single, social-justice warrior fighting for labor rights. And Dick Van Dyke’s iconic chimney sweep Bert is also long gone, but his apprentice Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) tries to fill Bert’s big shoes, and his feet are way too small.

Mary Poppins and dancing chimney sweeps
(L-R) Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), and the Banks children with a crew of street lamplighters at 17 Cherry Tree Lane in Disney’s musical “Mary Poppins Returns.” (Disney)

Ultimately, Blunt is like a splendid Christmas turkey surrounded by a crumb of stuffing and a tiny speck of cranberry sauce—her supporting cast. Mary Poppins arrives to do the magical nanny things we want to see: sliding up banisters and preparing bubble baths that open into other dimensions where there’s Caribbean snorkeling; singing musical numbers; and being prim, proper, tremendously and excellently elocution-ally British, while being demurely coquettish and as self-confident as only a Hogwarts graduate with supernormal abilities can be.

Mary Poppins in the children's bedroom
Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins in “Mary Poppins Returns.” (Disney)

Again, Is It a Magical Movie?

The first “Mary Poppins” definitely was. Pure classic. First movie I ever saw. And let me tell you, in Montessori kindergarten, you were not cool if you couldn’t say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

Now, there’s been much cynical sniping about Disney exhuming its treasure chest of children’s classics and attempting to update and squeeze more money out of them.

Need there be cynicism? It’s show business after all; Disney is in the business of show—what else would they be doing? There’s nothing new under the sun, and each generation needs a retelling of the classics.

Mary Poppins rides on a bike
(L–R) Jane (Emily Mortimer), John (Nathanael Saleh), Annabel (Pixie Davies), Ellen (Julie Walters), Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Georgie (Joel Dawson), and Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) in Disney’s new musical, which only has a smidgen of the original’s magic. (Disney)

Yet, the cynicism starts percolating when a revered classic is shoddily and hastily dressed up in some new, ill-fitting clothes, and it seems clear that the whole endeavor was less about magic and more about money. But all those suits sincerely hope there will be huge magic and huge money. The problem is it’s fiendishly difficult to remake a classic. The original is a really, really hard act to follow.

A lot of it may be Rob Marshall’s direction of the non-animated scenes, so that they come off like a high school production of “The Importance of Being Ernest”: lots of blocking and business and no cohesion, or—magic.

Mary Poppins and Banks's on the roof
(L–R) Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Annabel (Pixie Davies), Georgie (Joel Dawson), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) in a sequel to the 1964 “Mary Poppins.” (Disney)

I think Disney tried hard, but the only thing about “Mary Poppins Returns” that should have returned is Emily Blunt in the titular role. Actually, come to think of it, Dick Van Dyke, at age 93, in a tiny, disguised cameo, has more charisma and comedic chops than the entire Banks family put together, and Meryl Streep has herself a looney ball as Poppins’s Russian cousin, which is just tolerable. The rest of it is a crashing bore.

On the bright side, they managed to capture just enough of a whiff of the original 1964 magic so that I, never having seen the original since, was bonked on the head with enough nostalgia to now want to see the original “Mary Poppins” again.

Mary Poppins stands outside Banks home
Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to the Banks home after many years and uses her magical skills to help the now-grown Michael and Jane rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives, in Disney’s musical “Mary Poppins Returns,” directed by Rob Marshall. (Disney)

Film Review: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Emily Mortimer, Ben Whishaw, Angela Lansbury, Dick Van Dyke, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh
Rated: PG
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 19
Rated 2 stars out of 5

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.