In “Mary Poppins Returns”, on M6, Emily Blunt amazing as a nanny

The best successes are made in old pots

In “Mary Poppins Returns”, on M6, Emily Blunt amazing as a nanny

The best successes are made in old pots. For several years, Walt Disney Pictures has been drawing on its reserve of great classics to offer reworked, live-action versions: Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, Cinderella and soon Aladdin, The Lion King... Success is often there, these new productions seeking to address both the nostalgic adult traumatized by the first Dumbo and the child of today, born with digital technology and whose outlook has been sharpened by contact with blockbusters saturated with special effects.

This is the whole point of Mary Poppins Returns, a family film that seeks to reconcile an attempt at modernization and comforting retromania. The 1964 version, directed by Robert Stevenson, was already moving into the past by adapting the eponymous novel by Pamela L. Travers (1934). It is from the seven sequels published by the writer until 1988 that the screenplay for Mary Poppins Returns draws, setting its plot in the London of the Great Depression.

We find Michael and Jane, the two children from the 1964 version. The adult brother and sister, surrounded by Michael's three children, are on the verge of ruin and threatened with eviction. The little family will be saved by the reappearance of their former magician governess, who has not aged a bit. Emily Blunt replaces Julie Andrews to play Mary Poppins and brilliantly dusts off the character.

The usual sentimentality

For the rest, the film is bathed in the usual mawkishness of Christmas family entertainment. But the stakes lie elsewhere, in the digital goldsmithing and the riot of special effects that Mary Poppins and the three children go through like a series of successive paintings. Current progress gives shape to some dizzying moments, including a sequence where, after chipping a very valuable vase, the children and their nurse rush into the decor of a piece of porcelain to go and repair the object. The sequence mixes live shots and animation, the difficulty being to make the interactions between flesh-and-blood characters and 2D animated figures credible. The challenge is met brilliantly and shows us that the film belongs less to its director than to an armada of technicians (costume designers, decorators, special effects team).

From a strictly formal point of view, Mary Poppins Returns succeeds in combining nostalgia and modernity. But, in wanting to impress, the film forgets to give substance to its characters and substance to its story. As too often in blockbusters aimed at children, the key word is no longer to move them but to impress them.