What took so lengthy? ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ coming to a theater close to you
Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert in “Mary Poppins” in 1964. Photo: Disney / 1964
If you were 6 years old when Mary Poppins came out in 1964, you would be 60 years old and get into the December 19th release of Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel that has been in the works for 54 years.
You could say that Disney has some nerve waiting more than five decades to continue the story of the “practically perfect” nanny who catapulted original star Julie Andrews to Oscar winner. On the other hand, this is nothing new to Disney, a company that has never scored a hit that it failed to whip in a variety of ways.
The time span between the original “Fantasia” (1940) and its sequel “Fantasia 2000” was actually five years longer than the “Poppins” gap, but there were also direct video sequels like “Bambi II” (63 years after the original ) and “Lady and the Tramp II: Scamps Adventure” (45 years).
Perhaps the real question is why it took you so long to restart the “Poppins” kite. For many film music fans, the original “Mary Poppins” is one of the best musicals of all time created for the big screen, alongside “The Wizard of Oz”, “Singin ‘in the Rain” and “An American in Paris”. “Poppins” was certainly the highlight of Walt Disney’s career as a filmmaker and merged everything that his company stood for: healthy entertainment for all ages, fantastic and melodic storytelling and the latest film technology.
Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins”. Photo: Disney 1964
The film, with its unforgettable sequences that combine animation and live action with its irresistible score and charming performances, has always had an audience that from time to time included a sing-along audience at the Castro Theater.
Of course, Disney didn’t let “Mary Poppins” gather dust. A stage adaptation of the film opened in London in 2004. Some of the original songs by the brothers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman have been supplemented (not always successfully) with new material from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. This production ran for more than three years, while the Broadway production ran for more than six years, followed by extensive domestic and international tours.
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as writer PL Travers in “Saving Mr. Banks”. Photo: Francois Duhamel / Associated Press
Then, in 2013, Disney released the movie “Saving Mr. Banks”, perhaps to prepare the cinema audience for more “Poppins” stories. This drama behind the film describes Walt Disney’s decades-long struggle to secure the film rights of PL Travers, the irritable and anti-animation author of the series of “Poppins” books. Though she detests a lot of what the Disney team has done with their stories (don’t even start them with “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”), she gave in, and her “Poppins” books are still in print and will no doubt last.
Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Returns. Photo: Jay Maidment
When “Mary Poppins Returns” hits theaters a week before Christmas, the timeframe is 24 years after the original: Depression-era London, circa 1934 (when the first of the eight “Poppins” books was published). Banks children Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw) have now grown up. Michael has three children of his own and the entire Banks clan mourns Michael’s wife. This is Mary Poppins’ cue to steer her parrot head umbrella back to 17 Cherry Tree Lane and bring some joy back to the lives of the older and younger Banks children. Emily Blunt has the unenviable task of emerging from Andrews’ indelible shadow as the world’s most famous singing nanny.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) in “Mary Poppins Returns”. Photo: Jay Maidment
The creator of “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is not content with polishing his Tonys and Pulitzer, poses as Jack, a lamp-light who shares a similar vocal, dance, flirt and Mary attitude Seems like Dick Van Dyke Bert, the chimney sweep in the original. Speaking of Van Dyke, he’s the only member of the original cast to return (which we know of – there are rumors about Andrews, but only rumors). He plays the son of the bank owner he played 54 years ago. 92-year-old Van Dyke probably didn’t need that much makeup this time around.
One of the great joys of the first “Mary” was her supporting cast – David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns as the Banks parents, Ed Wynn as the laughing Uncle Albert, Elsa Lanchester as the terrorized Katie Nanna. For the sequel, director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”, “Into the Woods”) has some unique ringtones: Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Angela Lansbury among them.
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins”. Photo: Disney / 1964
Against all odds, the original “Poppins” found something to sing not only in the fantasy segments (“Chim Chim Cheree”, “A Spoon of Sugar”, “Jolly Holiday”), but also in the everyday world of the Banks family (” The Life I Lead “,” Sister Suffragette “,” Fidelity Fiduciary Bank “). The hottest moment of the Oscar-winning score is “Feed the Birds,” a poignant plea for caring for someone other than yourself. The song was Walt Disney’s favorite, according to Robert Sherman.
Perhaps “Mary Poppins Returns” faces the greatest challenge here. Can composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the team behind “Hairspray” and the TV show “Smash”, beat or even compete with the merger of the Sherman Brothers from the British music hall, Broadway and Gilbert and Sullivan? Do you have a “Feed the Birds” winemaker or a “Step in Time” toe-knocker up your sleeve? Of all the Broadway teams currently composing, Shaiman and Wittman, with their clever, humming melodies and penchant for retro charm, are the most logical choices for this Poppins resurgence.
As we know, sequels are never synonymous with the original unless you might be “The Empire Strikes Back”. But musical sequels are notoriously terrible. “Grease 2” was a movie bomb. “The best little whorehouse goes public” was a Broadway victim. And they tried unsuccessfully for years to make another morning for “Annie”. It seems our only guides here are the High School Musical and Mamma Mia! Now that’s going to start again. “That puts the musical continuation of the film pretty low. If the wind blows from the east, the crew of” Mary Poppins Returns “will undoubtedly produce something more magical.
Mary Poppins Returns (PG) opens December 19th.