It’s been 54 years since Mary Poppins was released, and this Christmas Disney is hoping to recapture the magic with Mary Poppins Returns.
A sequel to Poppins is a bold move, but also a fairly safe bet. With its timeless themes, memorable tunes, and groundbreaking visuals, the Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke-starring musical endures to this day.
With 63 and a half years between Bambi and the straight-to-video Bambi II, Disney holds the record for the longest wait for a follow-up, but huge gaps between live action sequels are more rare. Those that require extensive recasting – like Mary Poppins Returns – even rarer.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a recent example where a beloved series picked up the story with a completely new lead, and that film earned 10 Oscar nominations, a feat Rob Marshall’s musical will hope to repeat.
With Emily Blunt as Mary – one of the few A-list stars with the grace, poise, and voice to match up to Julie Andrews – Mary Poppins Returns is off to a great start.
Set some 25 years after the 1964 original, the sequel concept could be potentially quite confusing for some people to wrap their head around, so here’s what we learned from the film’s set about how the two films are connected.
New Mary, old tricks
It’s incredible to think that Julie Andrews made her feature film debut Mary Poppins. The actress was just 29 when she was hand-picked by Disney for the role for which she won the Best Actress Oscar. At 35, Emily Blunt is slightly older than Andrews was, but not the 25-years-older the timeline of the film would suggest.
“Mary’s a character who lives outside time,” explained producer Marc Platt, at Shepperton Studios in 2017.
“She’s magic. And so she is the one character who actually doesn’t age. So she is as ever as we know her and as she will be forever, that character.”
Her costume has been updated slightly to reflect the styles of the mid-1930s, she has a new carpet-bag, but she still carries the same parrot-headed umbrella which was faithfully recreated by the production team. And yes, it still talks.
The Banks are back
As in the first film, Mary is in town to look after the Banks children. Siblings Jane and Michael (played in the original by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) have grown up, and the younger brother still resides at the family home on Cherry Tree Lane with children of his own.
The older Michael – Ben Whishaw – has three children Annabel, John, and Georgie (presumably named after his grandfather George), but a recent bereavement has left them without their mother. Enter Mary.
Both Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael have memories of the nanny, but the magic of that story seems to have dissipated over time, and this plays a huge part in the story.
“All of us grown-ups have a tendency to forget some of the magic of our childhood, that maybe we kind of remember.” explains Platt. “But when we become an adult, certainly in this world, life intervenes. And sometimes you forget the magic, or you’re not sure, was it really magic? Or was it just something, was it real or was it in my imagination?”
Back to Cherry Tree Lane
The film opens in winter time, with the Banks’ home and Cherry Tree Lane faithfully recreated in detail on the Shepperton lot, complete with 30-foot tall cherry blossom trees. Number 17, the Banks’ house, has been made slightly smaller by production designer John Mhyre to make the house seem less palatial, and more relatable, with external brickwork added to give a more humble look to the street. The interior of the house has also been given an update to reflect the years passed, but it’s instantly recognisable.
As the film progresses, and Mary works her magic, the seasons change, with the film ending in summer, and the cherry trees in full bloom (around a million blossoms were added by hand) for the final sequence which – like the 1964 original – takes place in the park opposite the house.
The Banks’ neighbour Admiral Boom is also still in residence. David Warner has replaced Reginald Owen as the former Naval man next door, now in a wheelchair, who regularly fires his old cannon.
There’s a new cockney geezer
Lin-Manuel Miranda has assumed the mantle of the sequel’s all-singing, all-dancing leading man Jack. The Hamilton-creator’s character isn’t just the spiritual successor of the Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, he’s his protege too.
Jack is a leerie, a bicycle-riding lamplighter, who travels the length and breadth of London bringing light to the capital city. It’s not yet clear if Bert has a cameo in the film, but the spritely 92-year-old Dick Van Dyke appears in the film as Mr. Dawes Jr., the son of the elderly banker he played under heavy prosthetic makeup in the first film.
“[Jack] apprenticed under Burt from the original films so he knows all about Mary,” explained Miranda.
“He knows that Mary shows up and stuff’s going to happen and cool adventures will be had. So it’s really nice to play the Burt position in this film.”
Mary Poppins Returns is in UK cinemas from 21 December 2018. Watch a trailer below.