CHARLOTTE, NC: In fifty-five years Mary Poppins hasn’t aged a single day. Now, some three decades later, Michael (Matthew Garber) and Jane (Karen Dotrice) Banks nanny returns to London as the nanny for another generation of children. Michael’s wife has died, and Jane returns to the family home to assist in the raising of her precocious if not precious three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies ), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson).
The original story is set prior to World War I, 1910. This era is known as the age of man, as Mr. Banks explains in the original movie:
Mary Poppins – a favorite memory of the Baby Boom set
Those of us who marveled at the live-action/animation magic of Walt Disney back in the 60’s are now taking our grandchildren to watch Mary Poppins Returns. With all the wonders of cinematic technology, storytelling, music, and dance that enthralled us so many decades ago.
But this is not a remake of the original Mary Poppins, this story is set some thirty years later when London is in a depression, just prior to WWII.
As is the now grown, Michael Banks. Life has taken some unfortunate terms the now parent, and he needs some magic. Magic once again found in the flight of kite and stormy skies that clear.
With that as our background, Myth Trivia takes a look at some of the fascinating behind-the-scenes details of the popular Mary Poppins character played first by Julie Andrews and now, Emily Blunt. Though Julie Andrews, the original Mary Poppins, was offered a cameo role in the sequel, she declined out of respect for Blunt’s characterization. Andrews did not want to draw attention away from Blunt because of her presence. Class.
Contenders for the Role of Mary Poppins Returns
The list of contenders considered for the role reads like a who’s who of major Hollywood female stars perhaps rivaled only by those who sought to play Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Actresses Jennifer Aniston, Christina Applegate, Drew Barrymore, Kim Basinger, Kate Beckinsale, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Connelly, Kristen Davis and Cameron Diaz were on the list.
Also considered were Nicole Kidman, Heather Graham, Melanie Griffith, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Teri Hatcher, Helen Hunt, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Lisa Kudrow, Alyssa Milano, Julianne Moore, Tatum O’Neal, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Molly Ringwald, Meg Ryan, Winona Ryder, Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Alicia Silverstone, Hilary Swank, Charlize Theron, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts, Reese Witherspoon, and Renée Zellweger.
However, it is British actress, Emily Blunt (Devil Wears Prada) and who bears some resemblance to the original nanny, who nabbed the starring role.
Walt Disney’s team originally took some liberties with the books, much to the chagrin of author P.L. Travers. One such change was the time frame of the original Mary Poppins film which took place four years before World War I. Ironically, the sequel occurs a few years before World War II.
It’s about the Penguins
There were other controversies during the filming as well. From the outset, director Rob Marshall insisted on using the traditional hand-drawn animation style. It was the same technique used in the original Poppins film as computerized graphics were not available in that era.
After considerable debate, Disney executives relented and agreed to incorporate the hand-drawn style as a tribute to its animation legacy. Thus, it became the first time the Disney studio has used hand-drawn animation since 2001. That movie was Winnie the Pooh.
Sets and Costumes
Sets and costumes were a major undertaking for the remake of the film. The most complex decoration was that of Topsy’s shop. The upside down shop took seven months to build. Topsy is played by American actress Meryl Streep.
Set designer Gordon Sim spent months scouring flea markets and antique shops throughout England securing no less than 538 items that were bolted to the ceiling to create an upside-down shop. Another six months were necessary to create the scenery of the abandoned park in the film, while a total of eight film sets were required and adapted from Shepperton Studios.
Equal detail went into the costumes, of which a total of 448 original dresses were made. Here again, Topsy rated the most attention. Eight people working five weeks printing and hand painting the design on the front of the dress fabric to create six identical versions of the costume.
Researching the original Mary Poppins
Emily Blunt researched her Mary Poppins character thoroughly by reading P.L. Travers books, only to discover that Mary is actually quite different than Walt Disney’s vision. Consequently, Blunt’s version is more closely related to the character in the books.
Dick Van Dyke, who was Bert in the first film, also appears as the elderly Mr. Dawes, Sr. In the new version, he returns to play Mr. Dawes, Jr., the retired president of the bank. At the age of 93, Van Dyke insisted on doing his dance routines. IN the end, Van Dyke was able dance without assistance from other cast or crew members.
Ironically, in real life, Dick Van Dyke looks younger than 93. Thus, the Disney make-up team was asked to add “old age” make-up to the actor. Speaking of age, Angela Lansbury, also 93, is the oldest female character to ever appear in a Disney film.
Of particular interest is the fact that most of the cockney rhymes used in Mary Poppins Returns were invented for the film. They are not actual cockney slang.
Mary Poppins Returns Easter Eggs
In the opening sequence, the last title card is a chalk painting depicting the opening scene from the original version. Later, at the end of the picture, Jack rides away on his bike. Uf you look quickly you will recall Bert’s chalk painting where Michael and Jane jump into the picture.
Hint: Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
Finally, here is the ultimate trivial irony that ties both films together. When Julie Andrews was offered the role in 1964 she informed Walt Disney that she was pregnant and could not do the picture. Disney wanted Andrews to be Mary Poppins so badly filming did not begin until after the baby was born.
Oddly enough, when Emily Blunt was given the role, she was pregnant as well. Therefore production was delayed to accommodate her delivery.
Must be something in Mary Poppins’ magic bag of tricks that was just plain old “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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