The original 1964 Mary Poppins tale is more remembered for its music and charm than its family-centric story. The use of animation mixed with live-action created a cinematic experience filled with incredible wonder, the likes of which were incredibly few. (It would be another seven years before Bedknobs and Broomsticks, itself a book adaptation, and six more after that before Pete’s Dragon would hit theaters.) But at its core, it’s a tale of a disconnected family finding itself again, recognizing for all the things in the world which seem important, which divide our attention, family is the center and should be treated with more reverence. After 54 years, Walt Disney Studios found a way to bring the wonder and magic of P. L. Travers’ creation back to the big screen with the Rob Marshall-directed Mary Poppins Returns, reuniting audiences with the Banks family now with Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) as the mischievous nanny. If you missed the film in theaters, Mary Poppins Returns comes available on digital March 12th, with a 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD release following on March 19th. The question is, was the return necessary?
The last time audiences saw the Banks family, father George Banks (David Tomlinson) and mother Winnifred (Glynis Johns) were headed off to go fly a kite with children Michael (Matthew Garber) and Jane (Karen Dotrice) as Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) took to the skies on her umbrella, her work completed. Unfortunately, despite such a happy ending to that tale, the recent years for adult Michael (Ben Whisaw of Paddington/Spectre) haven’t been so kind. First, economic woes in England make earning a living difficult for Michael; then his wife gets sick and passes. With nowhere to turn, he takes out a loan from his father’s former bank to help settle expenses, except he misses a few payments and now the bank is going to repossess the house. His children, John, Anabel, and Georgie (Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Davies, and Joel Dawson) do what they can to pitch in around the house, as does Jane (Emily Mortimer of Cars 2/The Newsroom), who’s picked up her mother’s social activism, but none of them can help Michael save his home. With their lives in chaos, a familiar wind brings Mary Poppins back to help set them all straight on what the important things in life truly are: the people, not the things or the places.
There’s a delicate balancing act between homage and duplication. Some of it is in the hand of the creator, some of it is in the eye of the watcher. However, the final product is typically the true determinant as to whether something serves to remind us of what we loved or if it’s merely trying to piggy-back on that same feeling. It’s with enormous surprise that Mary Poppins Returns appears to be the latter more than the former. Despite Disney’s tumultuous relationship with Travers, the 1964 Julie Andrews-led film is universally beloved and remains a staple of entertainment for children, perhaps, in many cases, moreso than the books which inspired it. Considering audiences’ great love of the original, it makes sense that a sequel would come to pass, but to find that it’s mostly a retread of the 1964 film is disappointing. Rather than being an aspirational tale of childhood imagination, Mary Poppins Returns appears to go the easy route and spoon-feeds the audience with a tale bathed in references, rather than engage in something new. Yes, the foundation of the story is different – Michael is a grieving widower about to lose his home vs. George being a detached parent (though that was fairly typical for the period at the time),but all the beats within Returns are virtually identical. The resulting experience is incredibly frustrating, a feeling which is amplified when looking at the incredible talent appearing in the film – Blunt as Mary, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) as lamplighter Jack (a replacement for Dick Van Dyke’s minstrel/chimney sweep Burt), Meryl Streep as cousin Topsy, Winhaw, and Mortimer , as well as Oscar-nominated Marshall (Chicago) behind the camera – Mary Poppins Returns is a conundrum: a strangely delightful retread that goes down like a spoon full of sour-tinged sugar.
Even if Returns doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor, it still manages to tickle the nostalgia parts of ourselves that long for a classic Disney production filled with positive intent and dance numbers. Plus, in this version, audiences get treated to Blunt’s somehow more prickly Poppins and any chance to see Miranda in anything is a bonus. All that said, chances are great that whether you missed Returns in the theater or not, the decision to pick up the home release is more a matter of what’s included in which version than when to purchase.
First, a warning: the DVD contains no bonus features of any kind. So if you’re still using that medium, you’re going to be out of luck getting a glimpse behind the production. But, if you pick up either the 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray Multi-Screen Edition, or just go straight digital, then you’ll get plenty of treats to dig into, expanding the experience of the film beyond its runtime. For fans of the original, the short video “Back To Cherry Tree Lane: Dick Van Dyke Returns” is a touch emotional as the 90-year old actor returns to the recreated set upon which he once stood. Between this and the bloopers, a picture of how much Mary Poppins still means to Van Dyke, not to mention how he hasn’t lost a single step, is formed. If you’re curious about what didn’t make it into the finished product, there’re two deleted scenes as well as “The Anthropomorphic Zoo,” a musical number which made it all the way to storyboarding before it was removed. In that feature, you can listen to the song performed by songwriter Marc Shaiman as the storyboards progress through the scene. Of course, Returns being a film which taps into the alchemy of the Golden Age of Hollywood, “Seeing Things From a Different Point of View” offers a behind the scenes look at musical numbers “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” “The Royal Doulton Music Hall,” “A Cover Is Not the Book”, “Turning Turtle,” and “Can You Imagine That?” offering an opportunity to peer into the thought process of creating musical numbers which ride the line between retro cool and modernity. Do keep in mind that only the digital version appears to have director’s commentary, so physical media owners will be shorted that particular feature.
Mary Poppins Returns is bound to delight die-hard Disney fans, as well as inspire awe in a new generation of children who will long to go on an adventure with the quick-witted Mary Poppins. Much like a favorite book or bedtime story, Returns is cinematic comfort food. Though wrapped in a new modern package, Returns is mostly the same story audiences enjoyed in 1964. Arriving on a gust of wind, Mary Poppins takes the Banks children on an animated adventure, partakes in an extended dance number with the working class people of the era, and sings a nonsensical song. Though there’s nothing wrong with any of this, there’s also nothing new. In a strange way, Mary Poppins Returns captures the spirit of the original so well that it’s merely more of the same. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not. Can’t help but wonder how Mary would feel about it.
Full List of Features:
Blu-Ray & 4K
- Deleted song “The Anthropomorphic Zoo”.
- The Practically Perfect making of Mary Poppins Returns – Join filmmakers and cast on an amazing journey to embrace the legacy of the original film while making a fresh modern sequel.
- “Seeing Things from a Different Point of View”: The Musical Numbers of Mary Poppins Returns – Go behind the scenes and experience the film’s production numbers from a new angle.
- Back to Cherry Tree Lane: Dick Van Dyke Returns – Dick Van Dyke, who played Bert and Mr. Dawes Sr. in the first film, returns after 54 years to Cherry Tree Lane as Mr. Dawes Jr.
- Practically Perfect Bloopers.
- Deleted Scenes.
- Sing-Along Mode – sing along with all your favorite songs as you watch the movie.
- Play Mary Poppins Returns with audio commentary – Watch the film with commentary by director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca.
Available on digital March 12th, 2019.
Available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD March 19th, 2019.
Final (Film) Score: 3 out of 5.