Over 50 years after the release of the original Mary Poppins, this iconic Disney character has made her return to the big screen in a lively spectacle that is sure to entertain anyone who grew up with the first movie. Like most of the sequels and reboots that Disney puts out today, much of Mary Poppins Returns puts a lot of emphasis on nostalgia. While the nostalgia certainly works for a good portion of the movie, at times, it is clear that Disney may have relied on nostalgia just a bit too much.
Right off the bat, the set decoration, the setting and the music brought the audience right back into the London we saw in the first Mary Poppins. Its familiarity was warming and comforting, and certainly helped to set the tone for the rest of the movie. Many of the musical numbers and magical occurrences throughout the rest of the movie were incredibly similar to that of the first Mary Poppins, but now with better effects at Disney's disposal. There was even a good portion of the movie that took place completely in an animated world, putting live-action people on screen next to a number of 2D cartoon characters, which is something that general audiences haven't really seen since Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003.
The biggest draw for Mary Poppins Returns was the debut of Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins herself, replacing Julie Andrews. While Blunt's performance as Mary Poppins was adequate, from a critical standpoint, her performance is really the best way to visualize what the movie did wrong. While there was nothing necessarily wrong with Blunt's work, she didn't really bring anything new to the table. Instead, it felt as though Blunt was just doing a Mary Poppins impression for a good portion of the movie, but this worked fine because most people in the audience already knew Mary Poppins and enjoyed her performance due to the nostalgia. Had this been the first Mary Poppins movie, however, Emily Blunt's performance as the magical nanny would have been seen as bland. The decisions made for Mary Poppins in this movie, be it by the director or by Emily Blunt herself, solely relied on her being a good character through nostalgia rather than her being a compelling character.
This over-reliance on nostalgia goes far beyond Emily Blunt's performance - Blunt was just a good example. The entire plot of Mary Poppins Returns feels bland and unoriginal, having a basic and predictable concept that never really has us concerned for the well-being of the characters. All of the attention for Mary Poppins Returns seemed to go toward the nostalgic elements rather than making an intriguing narrative with in-depth characters, high stakes, and emotional resolve. Everything bland or not well thought out about Mary Poppins Returns was glazed over with a thick layer of nostalgia, with the filmmakers really hoping that no one would notice or mind.
Alas, Mary Poppins Returns wasn't completely without originality. The saving grace of this movie came in the form of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who gave an absolutely stunning performance as Jack. Jack was essentially this movie's version of Bert, who was played by Dick Van Dyke in the original Mary Poppins. However, while the role was a bit familiar, what Miranda brought to the table was incredibly unique, adding a much-needed element of fresh charm to an overly-nostalgic movie. In fact, the most memorable part of the movie had to be Miranda's performance of "Trip a Little Light Fantastic," which was a seven minute musical number led by Jack and was backed up with a truly fantastic ensemble of dancers. While it was Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins that made people want to see the movie, it was Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack that truly stole the show and made Mary Poppins Returns into an outstandingly fun trip to the theater.
While there are certainly elements of the latest sequel from Walt Disney Studios that feel a bit bland, the nostalgia of the art, music and characters, in addition to the charisma of Lin-Manuel Miranda, help to make Mary Poppins Returns a truly worthwhile trip to the movies. While the plot of the movie doesn't really have much appeal, the incredible musical numbers of Mary Poppins Returns will surely be enough to make audience members want to see the movie at least a couple times before it leaves theaters.