11 Magical Things We Learned on the Set of 'Mary Poppins Returns'
After 54 years, the wait is finally over.
Disney dropped the latest"Mary Poppins Returns" trailer this week, giving viewers some much-anticipated new insights into the world of the Banks family years after the magical nanny flew out of their lives. And if this preview is any indication, we won't need a spoon full of sugar for this medicine to go down.
In the spring of 2017, Moviefone was invited to the set at Pinewood Studios in London, England. We were able to speak with producer Marc Platt, production designer John Myhre, costume designer Sandy Powell, actress Emily Blunt, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda to learn exciting details about the new twist director Rob Marshall is putting on the old classic. Here are 11 must-know facts from our visit across the pond:
1. "Mary Poppins Returns" Is a True Sequel in Every Sense
The follow up takes place over 20 years after the original film, and pulls story elements from several of the seven follow-up books in the P. L. Travers "Mary Poppins" series. Despite the cheery nature of the film, it takes place in Depression-era London, following a grown-up Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer & Ben Whishaw), and Michael's three children.
Michael's life further mirrors his father's, working at Fidelity Fiduciary Bank under Mr. Dawes, Jr. (Dick Van Dyke) and the bank's president, William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth). When Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) reenters their lives, she has not aged since we last saw her. She herself "lives outside of time" as explained by Marc Platt. Poppins returning via kite follows the opening events of the second book "Mary Poppins Comes Back."
2. The New Banks Kids Will (Mostly) Be The Focus
Yes, Michael Banks is down on his luck, but Mary Poppins is truly there to take care of the new Banks batch (twins Annabel and John Banks, as well as youngest brother Georgie Banks, played by Pixie Davis, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson). Their adventures are aided by friendly neighborhood lamplighter Jack (Lin Manuel Miranda), and takes them everywhere from the animated "Royal Doulton Music Hall" inside a ceramic bowl to deep beneath the sea via bathtub.
The producers described it as a "healthy dose of childhood." Not to say that the film won't follow the escapades of it's supporting characters, which include....
3. Meryl Streep Basically Plays Ms. Frizzle
Well, not really, but the aesthetic is definitely there. Meryl Streep joins this epic story as Topsy, the wacky cousin of Mary Poppins.
Her flowing dress and necklace made of colored pencils accentuate a zaniness best exemplified in "Topsy's Upside Down Room," a living space that defies gravity. They execute this in the most literal sense. The whole room was built right side-up with everything secured to the floor, then completely flipped. Its taxidermy, ancient statues, and other vintage hardware make the whole thing feels like an antique store on steroids. We're very much here for it.
Similar to the kite entrance, most of Topsy's story is pulled from the second "Mary Poppins" novel.
4. There's More Practical Effects Than You Might Think
In addition to "Topsy's Upside Down Room," many of the street and set pieces were built physically as well, with the hope of creating "a world within a world." The vibrant colors of their clothes during the animated sequences were actually achieved in part by costume designer Sandy Powell directly painting onto white clothing. They attempted to match the same visual of Cherry Tree Lane, all the way up to Admiral Boom's nautical home.
While paying homage to the style of the first film (they built out a full animation map for the park sequence), the film stands apart with a well executed and fun vision.
5. Lin-Manuel Miranda's Character Is A "Protégé" of Bert
Despite the jokes surrounding Dick Van Dyke's previous attempt at a British accent, "Hamilton" star Lin-Manuel Miranda will be giving it a go as Jack, a local lamplighter (sometimes called a "leerie") who is a "protégé" of Bert from the previous film. He is aware of the existence of Mary Poppins, and thus is the perfect companion for her and the Banks children.
While Bert and Jack have similarities (they're both public servants with a propensity for song and dance), Miranda's take will likely involve a subtle touch of what made "Hamilton" so popular (maybe even a little rapping?). Miranda was a huge fan of Rob Marshall's "Chicago," and the actor's charismatic charm shined both on and off camera.
6. Don't Worry, There's Plenty of Dance Numbers
We were fortunate enough to watch the "Mary Poppins Returns" team film a dance number for the song “Trip a Little Light Fantastic" and it was, well, fantastic.
The soundstage was dressed for a foggy London evening, with a collection of streetlights for the rag-tag leeries to swing and dance from. The upbeat song also featured ladder tricks and zipping lamplighter bicycles for good measure. And if you looked closely, you saw a dash of modern flare in the dance choreography. Rob Marshall was heavily involved with the choreography of the film, and his meticulous approach was ever present during the several rehearsals and takes we witnessed.
7. They Built Their Own Big Ben
While it would have been great to shoot at the real Great Bell, the iconic clock tower at the Palace of Westminster is under renovation. But even if it were available, as Production Designer John Myhre pointed out, it's not as though one can "shut down Big Ben" for weeks of filming. So the crew was tasked with building a replica of it (to scale and all) on a soundstage, with some small help on the background from the Visual Effects department.
The setting is critical to one of the climactic scenes of the movie. Both the VFX team and the set team were able to visit the tower several times to get the proper measurements. Even while knowing their Big Ben was a phony (fun fact: it's actually a fully functional clock!), it's size and accuracy was humbling in person.
8. Dick Van Dyke Isn't The Only Hollywood Vet in the Cast
In addition to Van Dyke lending his talents to the role of Mr. Dawes, Jr. (very meta considering he played Mr. Dawes Sr. in the original film, along with his principle role), "Mary Poppins Returns" will be graced with the presence of Angela Lansbury playing The Balloon Lady. Another original character from the novel, Lansbury helps to fill out an already stellar cast which boasts a swath of Emmys, Grammys, Tonys, Golden Globes, and an Oscar to boot.
9. Emily Blunt May Have Been A Perfect Choice
From the get-go Blunt stated that she was not trying to "outdo Julie Andrews," which makes her performance that much more genuine. Instead of copying the character, she was afforded the opportunity to recreate it, singing and dancing to original songs that ultimately her version of Poppins will own.
Everyone we met sang her praises, and despite the demanding nature of the job (acting, singing, and dancing ALL while sporting crazy costumes) she seemed more than up for the challenge.
10. The Props Are No Joke
In addition to the practical effects, many of the props were meticulously crafted. The advent of 3D printing makes itself apparent with the design of the bird umbrella, and polka dots are a motif that run rampart throughout Mary Poppins' style.
They also have to account for the wear and tear some of the props experience. At the time of our visit, they had already gone through eight versions of Mary Poppins' magical bag, which -- given its detail -- make recreating the design quite the task. The overall look is played at a reasonable level, as the team bridged the gap between staying true to the time frame while not turning it into a "BBC period drama."
11. The Movie's Aim Is To Bring You Joy
Throughout the visit and the countless conversations we had with the filmmakers (and, of course, Emily Blunt herself), the one word that was spoken over and over was "joy." They are aiming to bring a familiar yet new happiness to what some consider a tumultuous and dark time in our own lives. The dreariness of the time period serves as a metaphor for the era we're in now, with the presence of Mary Poppins speaking to the need for finding something lovely and optimistic despite whatever negativity is swirling around us.
No one emulates that exuberant joy more than Miranda, who Marshall described as "a bright pure spirit."
All in all, we are more than excited for the next iteration of Mary Poppins. Be sure to check out the film when it hits theaters December 19th.
Check out the new trailer here: