Mary Poppins Returns ★★½

A listless Sunday afternoon of a movie that bursts with forced whimsy and synthetic optimism from the first notes of “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” to the last twinkles of “Nowhere to Go but Up” (an admirably bold choice of song title for any film’s big closing number), “Mary Poppins Returns” isn’t dishonest so much as it’s out of its time, like a useless clock that’s happy to be five minutes off. In fact, that analogy is something of a plot point in this long-awaited Disney sequel, which — after its daytime lullaby of an opening number — begins with the grizzled Admiral Boom (David Warner) complaining that Big Ben is running a few ticks ahead of schedule. Of course, the truth of the matter is that the crotchety old naval vet is actually lagging behind, but this is a film that would rather slow down the rest of the world than speed up to join it.

Such is the stubborn and elusive charm of 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. And yet, however refreshing the plotlessness and relative purity of “Mary Poppins Returns” might be, there’s a fine line between “nostalgic” and “out of touch” — between revisiting the past and living in denial of the present.

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