At the time of adapting Mary Poppins (1964) to the big screen, the author of the books, Pamela Lyndon Travers, loathed what Disney had done to her series of children’s books where a nanny with magical powers appears in a family’s life.
Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins charmed audiences with her witty smile and voice of a songbird and replaced the darkness of the nanny in the novels with light-hearted cheeriness
At its premiere, Mary Poppins was received with a five-minute standing ovation while Ms. Travers wept quietly for the damage, she felt Disney had done to the film.
Mary Poppins made Travers rich and famous and it became a household classic for children and families for decades to come. It won five Oscars. It’s a fantastic movie!
But with all her wealth, Travers remained bitter to the end. Travers also made sure that no sequels of such cheery humbug would ever be made for the big screen during her lifetime. She died in 1996.
Twenty-two years later, a sequel is about to land in the cinemas.
In Mary Poppins Returns (2018), Ms. Poppin’s high-heels are filled by one of the great actresses of our time, Emily Blunt (Sicario (2015), (Edge of Tomorrow (2014).
This time, Blunt’s take on the role is closer to the pages written by Ms. Travers. (There are eight books in total.)
This could be a good or a bad thing. But Blunt’s performance is not enough to save the lackluster storyline. And therefore, the movie.
The script has been pulled together by David Magee from various pieces of the books.
It has been directed under the obsession of Rob Marshall (Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Chicago (2002), who after seeing the first one at the age of four, had for the better part of his adult life harbored a fantasy of making a sequel.
Then somewhere in making the fantasy happen, the idea of great storyline was forgotten.
Mary Poppins Returns, set in the 1930s (20 years after the first one), begins in the midst of a great family drama. Nonetheless, we are about to find that the narrative is thin. The problems will either be solved or won’t. Anyway, Ms. Poppins is there to dance and sing with the children amongst cartoons that seem dated.
So, while there’s plenty of dancing and looney toons in the first one as well, there’s also a great narrative with evolving characters, tear-jerking moments.
It’s as if Mary Poppins Returns tries still to impress the long-deceased Ms. Travers.
While it may make her grin from the heavens, it will make a today’s four-year-old and 40-year-old turn in discomfort in the soft seat of a modern cinema.
‘Mary Poppins Returns’ in cinemas on December 25.