Mary Poppins Returns: Inside the magical sequel 50 years in the making
Mary Poppins Returns, directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods), picks up 25 years after the events of the first film, fast-forwarding to London’s mid-1930s economic slump, the actual time period of Travers’ books. Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane has become the warm, loving home that banker and artist Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) shares with his wife and three children. But after the sudden death of Michael’s wife, the Banks family is shattered — even enthusiastic aunt Jane (Emily Mortimer), now a fervent union organizer, and long-time housemaid Ellen (Julie Walters) can’t help lift spirits — and so in time, the once-blossoming home is on the verge of foreclosure.
Cue the arrival of prim and peculiar Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), who leads Michael’s wayward children (and Jane and Michael themselves) on a series of unbelievable adventures — to the top of Big Ben, the bottom of the ocean, into magical encounters with animated dancing penguins and upside-down cousins (hey, Meryl Streep!). If anyone can help this family find the light they’ve lost, it’s Mary Poppins.
Contending with five decades of a practically-perfect legacy, the sequel’s filmmakers have dedicated themselves to being as faithful and respectful to the iconic original as possible while still crafting a fresh new family musical. “The bar is so high for this,” says Marshall, who also directed the Oscar-winning Chicago. “But to be able to walk in the footsteps of this beautiful story about a woman who brings magic to this family that’s looking for wonder and hope and joy in their lives… I feel a great responsibility and reverence every day. We all feel it. We’re just lifting it up to get there with the right intentions behind it.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the cast, full of lifelong lovers of Mary Poppins like Blunt (who earned Julie Andrews’ blessing as the character long before the first camera rolled) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (who plays Mary’s pal Jack, a winsome lamplighter and former apprentice of Dick Van Dyke’s famed chimney sweep, Bert). Even the creative departments abound with folks who know the stakes and want to get this right: Tony-winning composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray) penned a new score that sounds downright Poppins-esque, while costume designer Sandy Powell and her team worked to bring the iconic looks of Mary and the Banks family into the stylish 1930s.