commentary by Alana George, Campus Carrier Asst. Arts & Living Editor
One of the first movies I fell in love with as a child was “Mary Poppins.” I would always watch it with my Nana when I would go to her house on the weekends. I was mesmerized (and still am) by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke as they danced with hand-drawn penguins and London chimney sweeps, and it instilled in me a passion for musicals that is still alive and well to this day. It should be no surprise, then, that when I saw the trailer for a “Mary Poppins” sequel, I was both excited and skeptical. The original has so much history behind it, a lot of which is explained in the 2013 movie “Saving Mr. Banks.” It also has a cult following the world over, so this movie had massive shoes to fill. Would this new installment in the series live up to the legacy?
As it turns out, the goal of the production team for “Mary Poppins Returns” was to pay homage to its predecessor in some ways but create something entirely different in others. According to an article in the quarterly Disney Twenty-Three magazine, director Rob Marshall is a massive fan of the first movie and idolized it as a child. He wanted to make sure his homage to the 1964 classic did not disappoint the cult following of fans, of which he is one, and he and the rest of the production team made a few great decisions to make that happen.
The first great thing they did was to cast another dynamic duo as the lead characters, Mary (Emily Blunt) and Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda). Both of these actors have proven themselves incredibly talented, one on the silver screen and one on Broadway. Emily Blunt has been nominated 18 times for four different film awards and has made a name for herself by starring in “Into the Woods” (2014) and “A Quiet Place” (2018). Lin-Manuel Miranda has firmly established himself as a great playwright, composer, and actor, most notably producing both “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” (which together won 15 Tony awards) and winning three Grammys and an Emmy. I was very excited to see both of these great talents in this cast, but like the rest of the world, I was not sure how they would ever live up to Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Jack was a perfect follow-up and tribute to Bert and, according to that same article from the Disney Twenty-Three magazine, Julie Andrews was very excited to hear that Emily Blunt would be the one reprising her iconic role. In this situation, if Julie is happy, I think we can all be happy.
The second great thing that the production team did was include a hand-drawn animation sequence, just like the first movie (spoiler alert: the penguins do make an appearance). Marshall and the rest of the team knew this movie would not be the same without some hand-drawn animation, and they pulled together a team of young students and old professionals who worked side by side to pull it off. Instead of jumping into a sidewalk drawing like in the first movie, Mary, Jack and the Banks children (Annabelle, played by Pixie Davies, John, played by Nathanael Saleh, and Georgie, played by Joel Dawson) magically end up in a ceramic bowl on the shelf of the children’s nursery, where they meet a menagerie of cartoon animals (and Mary and Jack do a killer musical number). Remember in the first movie how Mary, Bert, Jane and Michael magically change clothes when they enter this new world? Well, the same thing happens in this movie, thanks to the ridiculously talented costume department, headed by Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell. This new world is alive with color and magic and is the perfect tribute to the “jolly holiday” in the original.
The third great thing Marshall and his team did was include some magic and surprises, including a few very special celebrity cameos and an outstanding soundtrack that is a perfect reprise of the compositions of the Sherman brothers for the original. Among some of the big names making appearances are Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury and Meryl Streep, as well as one more very special guest that I will keep a secret for now (go see the movie to find out). I will tell you that it is not Julie Andrews; according to that article in the Disney Twenty-Three magazine, she was offered a cameo but turned it down, not wanting to take attention away from Emily Blunt. Julie Andrews may still be as classy as ever, but “Mary Poppins Returns” is fresh, exciting, inspiring, and it honestly makes you want to get up and dance. I guess one could say that it is, indeed, practically perfect in every way.