Undisputed, inarguable fact: Emily Blunt is an international treasure. If the makers of Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns did nothing else right, the casting of Blunt as the “practically perfect” magical nanny was a stroke of inspired genius.
Unfortunately, it’s a fool’s game to try to force lightning to strike in the same place twice, which is why Blunt’s performance—which is easily equal to that of the great Julie Andrews—is the best thing about Mary Poppins Returns.
That isn’t to say the film is a poorly considered waste of time. The story of a now grown-up Michael Banks (played by an excellent and heartbreaking Ben Wishaw), who’s raising his three children (played by bland bars of soap) following the death of his wife while desperately trying to hang on to his childhood home adds an affecting layer not seen in the original.
Plus the cinematography and charming special effects are a painstakingly loving homage to Disney circa 1964. The problem lies in slavishly trying to re-create something that’s practically perfect—if one aspect isn’t right, magic just ain’t gonna happen.
Of primary concern are the songs: There are too many, and none of them get stuck in your head like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or “Step in Time.” (I saw this film less than 12 hours ago, and cannot hum a single song from Mary Poppins Returns to save my life.)
Big name stars like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, and Meryl Streep are... well… fine, I suppose? But that’s not nearly enough for a film that’s practically begging you to compare it to the original. And those bars of soap that play Michael’s children? No. Sorry. Hard no.
To be fair, Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t come off as a nostalgia-fueled money grab, and can I say it enough? Emily Blunt is so very good. But let’s face it: How can trying to re-create the magic of what is arguably Disney’s greatest film result in anything other than disappointment?