Blu-ray Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

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The sequel to the 2008 blockbuster musical Mamma Mia! landed in theaters over the summer, adding several hundred million dollars more to the lucrative franchise. While that was expected, what was more surprising was the overall critical reception—decidedly more positive than what greeted the original. Alas, the main problem with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is that one of the first film's key cast members has not returned. Mild spoiler alert—though it is revealed early in the narrative—Meryl Streep's Donna Sheridan-Carmichael has passed away at some point during the decade between installments.

And that leaves a considerable hole at the center of Here We Go Again that isn't nearly filled by Streep's younger "replacement," Lily James. Part of that isn't James' fault. Cast as the much younger version of Donna (most of the new film unfolds in flashback), she simply doesn't evoke Meryl Streep. We know the real Streep as a young actress too well to accept the perky (sometimes over-aggressively so) James in this role. The premise here is that a young adult Donna has decided to embrace her adventurous spirit, travelling the world and enjoying the company of a variety of men. 
Mamma Mia here we go again men.jpg And so we also meet young versions of Sam (Jeremy Irvine as a youngster, Pierce Brosnan returning as the adult version), Harry (Hugh Skinner young, Colin Firth back as old), and Bill (Josh Dylan young, Stellan SkarsgÄrd back as old). We also see younger versions of Donna's friends (and song and dance partners) Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn, with Christine Baranski again as the older) and Rosie (Alexa Davies, with Julie Walters as old).

Each of the younger versions of the supporting characters is well cast, being both convincing visual matches as well as personality. But Lily James (acclaimed for Downton Abbey) just seems to be playing a different person than the Donna of the first film. The ABBA numbers are all staged with a frizzy energy that should please fans of the of the first film. The framing device finds Donna's daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) preparing to reopen her mom's hotel to great fanfare. It seems that the guest list is in doubt, with Sophie severely depressed that two of her three dads (Harry and Bill) are unavailable to attend the grand opening festivities.

It's all extraordinarily thin in terms of a feature-film narrative, but again there's lots of singing and dancing and humor (however obvious it usually is). Cher turns up for a cameo as Sophie's grandmother, while even Streep herself manages to return for a brief number. You'd never know from the film's marketing campaign that Streep is so minimally involved. Anyone expecting to see much of her will be sorely disappointed.

As for Universal Studios' Blu-ray edition, it's jam-packed with extras. Deleted and/or extended song sequences, an "Enhanced Sing-along" viewing option that provides on-screen lyrics, over a dozen mini-featurettes cover just about every topic of the film's production (though never in-depth; the longest is a piece about the choreography that lasts about seven minutes, while the shortest—a too-brief look at the challenge James had in "playing" Meryl Streep—barely tops two minutes).

We also get a Today show interview with Cher (conducted by Kathie Lee Gifford). Writer-director Ol Parker contributes feature audio commentary, as does producer Judy Craymer on a second track. Lots of stuff to keep the Mamma Mia! fan busy for a good long while.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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