If you saw “Mary Poppins” as a child, you’re going to recognize many of the beats in “Mary Poppins Returns.”
It isn’t exactly a carbon copy of the original, but there’s enough here to suggest no one wanted to veer too far from the premise.
Set several decades after the original, the new edition finds Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) grieving the death of his wife and trying to figure out how to hold on to his home. Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) breezes in and, like she did in the original, plays fixer.
Before Big Ben strikes midnight, she takes the kids underwater, into an animated vaudeville show, over to a nutty repair shop and around the streets of London. In other words, she checks off a list Walt Disney made more than 50 years ago.
Along for the ride: a lamp lighter named Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) who could easily moonlight as a chimney sweep. He sings and dances with the best of them and gets the nudge to cozy up to Michael’s sister Jane, who has taken on unionizing as her cause.
While much of this plays like fan fiction, director Rob Marshall makes sure to bring a tear or two by recalling moments from the first film (through music and props). His biggest coup is getting Dick Van Dyke to sing and dance at the 11th hour. Van Dyke doesn’t disappoint (he’s the best part of the film), but he’s on so quickly you wish he had been re-introduced earlier.
Meryl Streep gets the “I Love to Laugh” moment as the crazy Cousin Topsy (though the part could have been cut) and Angela Lansbury doubles for the “Feed the Birds” woman as a balloon seller in the film’s waning moments.
Blunt more than redeems her casting and Miranda is amiable enough to join her on the journey but “Mary Poppins” should have returned for something other than a dad in crisis. Giving Mary another family to mentor might have been the best idea of all.
Still, nostalgia runs deep and “Mary Poppins Returns” is steeped in it.
When Blunt and company sing Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s lively tunes, there’s reason to smile, even though you long for a reprise of one of the originals.
Eager to please diehards, Marshall uses old school effects tricks and two-dimensional animation. Another director might have pushed this in a new direction and gotten even better results.
Tackling something like “Mary Poppins,” though, is a daunting idea. Marshall doesn’t besmirch the memory but he also doesn’t polish it.
This sequel is a few vowels short of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.