Exactly where do I start? Well, the first word that came to mind as I trudged my way through the film was "joyless." I leaned towards my wife about a half hour into the movie and whispered, "'This is utterly joyless."
Which is odd, given that it's a big, booming movie musical brimming with overstaged songs about positivity. But it's so aggressively entertaining that the joy that it's intent on sharing is ultimately exhausting. And soulless. (The New York Times' Mahohla Dargis came up with another -less to describe it in her review: "A largely charmless venture," she wrote.)
The film, of course, is a fifty-years-plus sequel to Disney's 1964 movie whose status as "iconic" and "classic" never made much sense to me. Its only memorable element is the remarkable Sherman Bros. song score.
Frankly, the appeal of the character of Mary Poppins has always evaded me. Mary is obnoxious, self-satisfied and rude - and, yes, charmless - even as played by the twinkly Julie Andrews back in '64. She's probably the least qualified nanny to teach life lessons to innocent minds.
Andrews actually won an Oscar as Best Actress for her performance, an achievement that had less to do with her portrayal than with Hollywood's weird, misguided way of punishing Audrey Hepburn for assuming Andrews' original stage role in the film version of "My Fair Lady." The two films were released the same year, and both Hepburn and "My Fair Lady" are arguably superior to Andrews and "Mary Poppins." There, I said it!
The makers of the sequel basically trace over the original movie in an attempt to replicate its musical magic. Each song here is inspired by one from the original. Given their newness, it's difficult - and unfair - to judge the sequel's songs against ones that we've heard over and over and over again for the past five decades. The new songs certainly support the plot, get the job done and may even prove to be memorable but too many of them are protracted and garish in a misguided attempt to be "dazzling."
Again, the words joyless, exhausting and aggressive come to mind.
Talented Emily Blunt, who has been a vivid presence on screen since she caught the attention of critics in the 2004 British drama, "My Summer of Love," is something of a blank as Mary Poppins, not only because she's essentially miscast here but also because, for some bizarre reason, the character has been written to be on the periphery of the plot. She's more of an observer than the film's leading character. Consequently, much more memorable are Ben Whishaw and Emily Moritmer, who play the grown siblings Michael and Jane Banks, around whom the plot revolves.
Mortimer, in fact, is so light and naturally engaging here that it becomes apparent (to me, at least) that Disney cast the wrong Emily as Mary.
Note in Passing: I've a quick question: Exactly for whom was this movie made? Ostensibly, it's a family film geared towards children. Pre-schoolers might like it but older kids today may be too sophisticated and jaded to buy into its retro (read: corny) quality. There was only one child - a little girl - at the screening I attended and she didn't make it through the film's overlong two-hour-and-10-minute running time. The other dozen or so people in the audience (aside from one other guy) were middle-aged women in groups of two or three - women apparently with fond memories of the original film. They're the real audience for "Mary Poppins Returns."
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