‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is satisfying

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If you didn’t like the original “Mamma Mia!” (2008), you won’t like “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” In fact, the title could be considered a dire warning because here we go again, indeed with eighteen more pop songs. This is both a sequel and a prequel to the original movie, as well as the wildly successful stage musical of the same name.

This is a shameless, but delightful excuse to celebrate the high-energy pop tunes of the Swedish phenomenon called ABBA. Serious moviegoers will rightfully be critical of this feature that lacks much of a story.

However, as these reviewers have enjoyed the stage musical in four different cities, we just say, “thank you for the music,” and are hardly objective of this admittedly campy, kitschy musical entertainment.

The original story centered on Donna (Meryl Streep) as a single mother on the Greek Island of Skopelos. When daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) learns the truth about three men (Pierce Bosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard) who could have been her father, she invites them all to her wedding, which set the stage for hilarity and song.

Director OI Parker (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” 2011) replaces Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the original as well as the stage musical. If the star is the music, the co-star is the breathtaking scenery, filmed on the island of Vis in Croatia. The majority of the original cast returns, along with a younger version of each, to tell Donna’s backstory.

The effervescent Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) now plays Streep’s character, Donna. We discover her young and more adventurous life, experiencing the excitement she had with travels, as well as her interest in three young men in particular, dot, dot, dot. James exudes the energy, pathos and charm that we expect from this critical character.

Although Streep is featured in the movie trailers and posters, she does not appear until the very end of the movie, but with an enormously touching and emotional display. This story centers mostly on the young Donna, but also on the present life of daughter Sophie. Both pay homage to the original, but effectively take the story to another level.

This movie knows that it is a corny, but charming story in search of disco-laced, bell-bottomed ABBA tunes. But writer/director Parker generates heart-tugging emotion with the mother/daughter relationship as well as life’s universal lessons learned from wanderlust, naiveté, determination and triumph.

In addition to the younger version of each character, Cher and Andy Garcia are added to the cast in smaller, but critical roles. “Grandma” Cher is only three years older than Streep in real life, but these superstars light up the “stage” with their sheer presence. However, they add to the story with touching moments and a tender serenade.

Original ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus appear in cameos. Streep filmed her few scenes in less than a week. Julie Walters (Rosie) returned to England in the middle of shooting to be pronounced a “Dame of the British Empire” by Queen Elizabeth II. Most of the wonderfully large cast participate in the “Super Trouper” encore.

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is 114 minutes and rated PG-13 for suggestive material. This is not much more than a bright colored jukebox musical, but should more than satisfy its target audience. Sure, it’s more of the same with several songs repeated from the original, but rather than feeling secondhand, it seems fresh and rejuvenated.

ABBA is one of the top-selling pop groups of all time, and their jukebox musical was one of the longest-running plays on Broadway and London’s West End.

Finally, the original movie (2008) grossed over $600 million worldwide. So, although there may be justification to criticize ABBA, it really wasn’t that much of a stretch when somebody suggested, “Take a chance on me.”

Ron’s Rating: A-
Leigh’s Rating: A-

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Ron & Leigh Martel