'Mary Poppins Returns': Every Supercalifragilistic Detail We Learned on the Set of Rob Marshall's Sequel to the Disney Classic [Set Visit Report]
Last year, I flew across the Atlantic Ocean to visit London, England. Specifically, I visited London, England so I could visit a recreation of London, England on a series of sound stages at Shepperton Studios. But this wasn’t just any recreation of London. This was the London of Mary Poppins Returns, a London full of magic and whimsy and yes, lots and lots of music.
A direct sequel to the 1964 original, Mary Poppins Returns stars Emily Blunt as the magical nanny and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack, her new partner-in-song-and-dance. Rob Marshall, the director of Chicago and Into the Woods, is behind the camera and everything we saw on set suggests that this movie should be a delight.
This is Very Much a Sequel to the 1964 Original
Despite the new cast (and despite being made over 50 years later), Mary Poppins Returns is very much a direct sequel to the original Mary Poppins. It’s still set on Cherry Street Lane. It still focuses on the Banks family. And the magical nanny of the title is the same magical nanny Julie Andrews played all the way back in 1964.
Producer Marc Platt laid out the basic plot structure for us:
And while Michael Banks is now played by Ben Whishaw and Jane Banks is now played by Emily Mortimer, they are very much the same characters we first met as young children so very long ago. During our set visit, we saw that old suffragette sash once worn by the Banks children’s mother, still acting as a kite tail. As a wonderful nod to their politically progressive mother, grown-up Emily is a union organizer. Of course, Michael has followed in his father’s footsteps and works as a banker under William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth), the villain of the film.
The production team took this being a sequel very seriously. We saw concept art and models that showcased an exact recreation of the sets from the original movie and were even able to explore the Banks’ house, a surreal experience for anyone acquainted with the original film. Production designer John Myhre explained the process of building a mostly practical Cherry Tree Lane (although a fair amount of CGI will be used to bring everything to life):
The film opens up in the winter time and then at the end of all the Mary Poppins magic, spring comes magically overnight to London. So we needed a street that could look like this illustration here with all the bare trees and kind of grey and then magically, suddenly burst out in cherry blossom. So we built trees that were 30 feet tall that could one day be winter trees and then over the course of a two-week period where we pulled all the limbs out and put in new limbs, 900,000 to 1 million cherry blossoms had to be put on by hand, so that was the reason we ended up using this as something that we built here on the stage. Most of the other streets, almost all the other streets are going to be real.
But what about the Banks family’s neighbors? Yes, Admiral Boom is still alive and yes, he’s back in this movie, albeit in a naval-themed wheelchair.
While the story in Mary Poppins Returns is new, the basic structure will be familiar: Mary arrives and goes on a number of magical adventures with the (new) Banks kids. And Emily Blunt, who plays the new Mary, had nothing but praise for her young co-stars:
But It is Also an Adaptation of the Other Books
While Mary Poppins Returns frequently nods to the original film and exists in the same continuity, the production was not shy about utilizing the work of author P.L. Travers to fill out the story and the cast. As Platt explained:
The result is a remix of sorts, a “greatest hits” of Travers’ writing that borrows bits from across her entire work as everyone saw fit. Platt elaborated:
Fans of Travers’ work may be thrilled to know that the legendary Angela Lansbury is playing The Balloon Lady in Mary Poppins Returns. But regular ol’ movie fans will be excited by the mere presence of the great Meryl Streep. The three-time Oscar winner plays Topsy, a “fix-it shop owner” whose store is filled with assorted kick-knacks and items. We were able to tour this set and it quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary shop – everything was upside down. Literally. As Myhre explained as we navigated the surreal, wondrous, and entirely space:
Of course, the set was built to be large enough for a big musical number.
Emily Blunt Was the First Choice for the New Mary Poppins
Emily Blunt is one of the finest actresses working today, capable of leading soapy mysteries, prestige dramas, and kick-ass science fiction action movies. Of course, she was also the leading lady in director Rob Marshall’s big screen take on Into the Woods, which meant she was at the forefront of everyone’s minds when it came time to find the new Mary Poppins. Marc Platt told us all about it, finding time to also praise her singing and dancing abilities:
Of course, it is not lost on anyone that Mary Poppins has not aged a day in decades. Platt explained:
“It’s very surreal to me being Mary Poppins,” Blunt told us when we sat down with her. The fact that she’s playing a legitimate icon is not lost on her:
Meanwhile, costume designer Sandy Powell had to make sure the new Mary Poppins has a look that is instantly identifiable as…well, Mary Poppins. For her, it was all about nailing the silhouette:
Mary Poppins may be an immortal, supernatural nanny, but it’s been decades since the first movie and fashions have changed. Powell noted that Mary has kept up with the latest trends and dresses accordingly:
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