Updated: Mar 26, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“MARY POPPINS RETURNS”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2018, PG for mild thematic elements and brief action; Streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes, Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: The multi-part featurette, “The Practically Perfect”
FIRST IMPRESSIONS can be life-changing – just ask director Rob Marshall.
At age 4, Marshall (“Chicago”) made his first trip to a movie theater, and he and his family saw the original “Mary Poppins” starring Julie Andrews as the practically perfect nanny and Dick Van Dyke as Bert, the high-stepping chimney sweep.
“It’s what opened my mind up to the world of movies, and magic and music, dance, fantasy … All of that in one beautiful movie,” says Marshall, who directed Disney’s reboot, “Mary Poppins Returns.”
Emily Blunt (“A Quiet Place,” Edge of Tomorrow”), who plays the ageless and delightful Mary, still remembers the first time she saw the original, on the telly in the U.K. “There was something completely magical about Mary Poppins, who turned the mundane into these extraordinary adventures,” she says during “The Practically Perfect” featurette.
Broadway sensation Lin Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) stars as Jack, a London lamplighter. “The entire creative team has really taken painstaking measures to evoke the wonder of the original.”
He’s mostly right. “Mary Poppins Returns” features a well-developed script from David Magee (“Life of Pi”), stunning art direction, massive sets and breathtaking FX shots that are light years more sophisticated than the 1964 version. But when it comes to toe-tapping musical numbers – 13 songs from composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”) – it falls flat. They just don’t have the spark of the original Robert and Richard Sherman songbook.
That’s not to say “The Cover Is Not the Book,” “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and the Oscar-nominated “The Place Where Lost Things Go” aren’t enjoyable. They just don’t have the catchy hooks and melodies that made “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Feed the Birds,” “Step in Time” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” one of the greatest collection of songs ever written for the screen.
The Shermans won Oscars for Best Song (“Chim-Chim-Cher-ee”) and Best Music, plus the soundtrack won a Grammy and topped the Billboard Album charts for 14 straight weeks.
Adapted from P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins Comes Back” (1935), the sequel takes place during the Great Slump – the 1930s Great Depression – and the Banks children are now grown. Jane (Emily Mortimer) is a progressive union activist and Michael (Ben Whishaw) is a widower – his wife and mother of his three children passed away a year ago.
To pay the soaring medical bills, he got a loan with the family home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane as collateral but forgot a couple of payments after the funeral. Now, it’s about to be repossessed by Fidelity Fiduciary, the very bank where he works as a teller and where his father was a senior partner.
Faced with a midnight Friday deadline to come up with the cash, he remembers his father had valuable bank shares, which would derail the plans of the wicked new bank manager, Mr. Wilkins (Colin Firth), but there’s just one problem: Where’s the certificate?
Mary, parrot-headed talking umbrella in hand, returns just in time, during an afternoon windstorm attached to the shabby family kite flown by Michael’s youngest, Georgie (Joel Dawson). “I was flying a kite, and it got caught on a nanny!” he says. Pixie Davies plays his sister, Anabel, and Nathanael Saleh is his brother, John. Julie Waters is Ellen, the befuddled housekeeper.
The magical Mary takes the kids on an aquatic adventure from their bathtub and a visit to her cousin Topsy, whose boutique world turns upside down every second Wednesday, which gives Meryl Streep an opportunity to sing “Turning Turtle.”
Mary tucks the children into bed
Blunt’s voice range is not in Andrews’ league, but still, she’s pitch-perfect. The dance numbers – choreographed by producer John DeLuca and Marshall – were another matter: Even though she was surrounded by 30-plus professional dancers, she dreaded them. “[Rob said], it’s got to be in your body, so that on that day, when the cameras are rolling, and in the costume, you don’t have to think about it.” Weeks of rehearsal paid off – the dance scenes are dazzling and colorful.
The enclosed Blu-ray and streaming sites include a charming featurette on 92-year old (during filming) Dick Van Dyke, who’s still sharp as a tack and tap-dances on top of a desk for his cameo. “He was like a life force,” says Whishaw. Between takes, Miranda kept asking about his role in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” and his 1960s Emmy-winning sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Van Dyke also recalls how he begged Walt Disney to play Bert and that he would’ve done it for free if necessary.
There are two deleted scenes, bloopers and in-depth looks at “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” “The Royal Doulton Music Hall”/ “A Cover Is Not the Book,” which took over a year to produce, and two additional numbers, “Turning Turtle” and “Can You Imagine That?”
Sadly, “Mary Poppins Returns” wasn’t mastered in 4K like “The Greatest Showman,” one of last year’s finest 4K presentations. The amount of animation rendering must have forced Disney to master the 3.4K digital footage (2.39:1 aspect ratio) from cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Chicago”) in the lower 2K resolution. The up-converted 4K (disc and streaming) has a slight edge in clarity, most evident when the Banks children wear nicely defined horizontal-patterned swimming suits, and in the close-ups and wide shots. Facial detail is clear, too – you pick out the freckles on Blunt’s face – while the HD versions hold up even on larger screens.
The HDR10 (disc and streaming) and Dolby Vision (streaming only) toning provide a striking visual experience with shadows and highlights, especially inside the dimly lit Topsy boutique and the nighttime dance sequence, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.” Dolphins shimmer as they jump over Mary and the kids while they ride a bathtub boat during a setting sun. The 4K color palette is balanced and natural throughout with warm tones from inside the Banks' home and lesser during “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” sequence, but the HD versions lean toward an orange cast.
The 4K versions (disc and streaming) are coded with the immersive eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, though it’s used sparingly with sound effects like cheering animals and ticking clocks. What a waste. The eight-channel DTS-HD soundtrack on the Blu-ray is just as effective – the bellowing vocals, lively, old-fashioned orchestration and brassy band moments envelop the room.
“Mary Poppins Returns” has plenty of nice touches. It received Oscar nominations score, best song, costume design and production design and was selected by American Film Institute as one of the 10 movies of the year. That said, and even with all of those accolades, filling the shoes of the Sherman Brothers and company was a tall order.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer