By James Hibberd
December 12, 2018 at 12:52 PM EST
Jay Maidment/Disney
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There’s one thing that reviewers of Mary Poppins Returns agree on: Emily Blunt is perfectly cast as the magical nanny who returns to help a new generation of Banks children in Disney’s long-awaited sequel to the 1964 fantasy classic. And it’s a good thing, too, as some other parts of the film are described as “gaudy and mirthless” and a “sleepy rehash” that slavishly adheres to the plot of the original film, yet still manages to deliver the holiday uplift goods.

Here’s what top critics are saying:

Entertainment Weekly: “Director and cowriter Rob Marshall (Into the WoodsChicago) clearly understands the legacy he’s taken on, filling nearly every corner of the screen with song and dance and tweedy whimsy — even a featured sequence done entirely in the flat ’60s-style animation of the original. But he doesn’t seem to quite know how to find a storytelling spine to match Mary’s famous rigor; the narrative feels spindly and slightly adrift, a parasol in the wind.”

IndieWire: “Rob Marshall’s sleepy rehash, a feature-length anachronism that feels like a meandering stroll compared to the manic sprints of others family movies these days. A generation of kids raised on Minions is about to be bored into submission, and they’ll be all the better for it … For a movie that so insistently celebrates the power of imagination, Marshall’s latest puts little of its own on display. For a movie about the pleasure of seeing things from a new perspective, it only works when it retreads familiar ground.”

USA Today: “Perfectly fine … While narratively no match for the classic Disney musical, the new Mary adds new songs and multitalented charisma machine Lin-Manuel Miranda to the mix for one undoubtedly comforting nostalgia-fest … This Poppins is notably vain and enjoyably sarcastic (“Cleaning is not a spectator sport”) yet just as caring.”

AV Club: “Every effort to update or refresh that actually succeeds then ends up contaminated by a reminder of the film’s overeagerness to sell itself. Blunt, for one, knows exactly what she’s doing. She glides through her scenes even when she’s not literally aloft, offsetting her sterner side with prim but genuine affection in her dialogue, then grinning her way through the energetic toe-tappers. Like the technically astounding and spiritually hollow production numbers, however, Blunt can’t situate the sentimental energy in a deeper foundation. Her excellence gets left in a sort of vacuum when paired with the fully extraneous train wreck of a visit with Meryl Streep as kooky Poppins cousin Topsy or some discomfiting soft shoe from a creaky Dick Van Dyke.”

Hollywood Reporter: “…an enchanting movie musical that picks up the threads of the studio’s cherished original more than half a century after its 1964 release. Sticking close to the enduring classic’s template while injecting plenty of freshness to give the follow-up its own distinct repro vitality, this lovingly crafted production delivers both nostalgia and novelty. Ideally cast from top to toe, and graced by tuneful songs from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman that genuflect to the invaluable contributions of the Sherman Brothers on Mary Poppins, this is a charmer only cynics could resist.”

IGN: “What stands out most about Mary Poppins Returns is its heart; even more than the original, it opts for sentimentality over subtlety, but much like this year’s equally charming Paddington 2, its earnest intentions never tip it too far into eye-roll territory. Its life lessons may be a bit too on-the-nose for some adults, but it’s clear that now, just as in 1964, Mary Poppins has plenty to teach us.”

LA Times: “It may be churlish to subject these two movies to point-by-point comparisons, but it also seems entirely appropriate. The big musical set-pieces here play like second-rate retreads … The most successful callback is the inevitable Van Dyke cameo, probably the worst kept of the movie’s many secrets, and for good reason. The sight of the 92-year-old screen legend in glorious step-in-time form delivers that sensation you’ve been longing for: a fleeting but genuine rush of joy. It’s too little too late to make for a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience in retrospect, but for a moment, at least, you’re glad you stayed awake.”

BBC: “… it’s no surprise that Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t reach the highest heights of Mary Poppins: the surprise is how close it gets. A lively, colourful and big-hearted musical, it may lack a spark of originality, but it’s better than most children’s films. It’s just not as good as the children’s film it is trying so hard to be.”

CNN: “Mary Poppins Returns could just as easily be titled Mary Poppins Remade. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but a movie that descends from the clouds with a huge gust of nostalgia behind it only sporadically conjures magic between the title character’s arrival and departure. The result is thus perfectly passable, but well short of practically perfect.”

Slate: “What we need from a Mary Poppins movie right now is something much humbler and easier to achieve: a few catchy songs, a well-choreographed dance sequence or two, half a dozen familiar faces from Hollywood past and present. Fine, I’ll say it: It’s been a long, anxious year, and all we ask is a warm blanket of family entertainment, a nice place to go with our kids or parents or grandparents some chilly afternoon after the presents are opened and the latkes consumed. Mary Poppins Returns delivers on all those fronts except maybe one.”

Variety: “… it’s a lavishly high-spirited and, at times, nearly fetishistic recreation of a ’60s studio-back-lot musical, with cobblestone-streets-of-London sets that look like sets, dance numbers driven by a touch of Gene Kelly athletic-hoofer vivacity, and, more than that, a tone of whimsical sincerity that even the most innocent children’s films of today are a tad too slick and jaded to try for. From the opening moments, when Lin-Manuel Miranda, as Jack the cockney lamplighter, raises his puppy-dog eyes and pure-heart grin to sing “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky,” you’ll likely find yourself in the grip of the film’s old-is-new, stodgy-is-soulful elation.”

Collider: “Mary Poppins Returns is about as close as you can get to a remake of Mary Poppins without just calling it a remake … If you haven’t seen the original Mary Poppins, then Mary Poppins Returns will probably seem vibrant and new. But when placed next to the classic, it looks more like a pale imitation… Probably the worst thing you can do before watching Mary Poppins Returns is to see the 1964’s Mary Poppins not just because it’s hard to compare to a film that has such a beloved reputation, but because you can see all the ways Marshall comes up short. His movie just doesn’t have the same level of imagination, and it certainly doesn’t have the songwriting chops.”

Vanity Fair: “Marshall’s film is an overstuffed toy chest of computer-crafted visuals—busy but smoothed, its gleaming artifice proving a little alienating. Children are probably more comfortable dwelling in the realm of the fantastic, but from my wizened perspective, the film’s version of make-believe is a bit cold. I wanted more practical settings and textures, more to grab onto beyond Blunt’s radiant appeal. Especially when Mary is curiously pushed to the sidelines for the latter half of the film …What lingers of Mary Poppins Returns is Blunt’s winningly efficient performance; Whishaw and Mortimer’s mousy sweetness; Julie Walters doing a delightfully huffy turn as the Banks’s housemaid, Ellen. There’s plenty of fine work here, built with an earnestness sturdy enough to keep the chilly creepy of Disney hegemony at bay.”

More to come

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