There are hints of Blunt's sharpness in a number like the Music Hall-inspired "A Cover Is Not the Book" -- a "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" stand-in that takes place in an animated universe -- which has a bawdier soul than its predecessor, an invitation to "read between the lines." On top of that, a whiff of sadness courses through Mary Poppins Returns. Ben Whishaw goes deep into Michael's anguish, for instance, with emotionally resonant effects. The death of their mother is at the forefront of the newest generation of Banks children's minds.
But Mary's mission isn't about processing grief. It's about lunacy and whimsy. And it seems like she hasn't really rewritten her playbook since the last time we saw her. The Uncle Albert role has essentially been turned into Cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep, enthusiastic as ever, and with an inexplicable accent). Whereas Albert laughed so much he floated to the ceiling, Topsy is also untethered to the ground, thanks to an inverted shop. The chorus of chimneysweeps in "Step in Time" led by Dick Van Dyke has been transformed into a crew of lamplighters for "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" led by Miranda, as Jack. Jack, like Van Dyke's Bert, is a sidekick of sorts for Mary. As a boy he used to watch longingly as she interacted with the Banks family -- the class distinctions go undiscussed, but there are bike riders doing X-Games-type tricks.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's songs are pleasant, but fail to match the indelibility of the Sherman brothers' originals. This is all mostly fun stuff, but every so often you question, "Why?" as the narrative draws along to its inevitable conclusion: All anyone just needs is to believe in magic.
Except, that's not actually how the Banks family gets saved. Near the climax of the film, it turns out the family is able to keep the home thanks to a savvy investment. The message: Put some tuppence in the bank and you might earn some reward. It's cynical, but delivered with no irony. Invest your nostalgia -- in the form of money -- with Disney, and they'll give you a new spectacular. It will feel like what you're used to, but you may not be the same.