Thank you to Disney Studios for hosting me during the Mary Poppins Returns Event!
There’s a theme in Mary Poppins Returns that everything is possible, even the impossible. Director Rob Marshall took that theme to heart when creating the world of Mary Poppins, both on the screen and on the set.
How did he convince the cast that everything is possible, even when working with actors that were scared of heights or unused to singing?
When I work with Actors I really find they need to feel positive reinforcement, and it’s such a simple thing to do. It’s like being a really good parent. I try and achieve that when we’re working.
As an example, Ben Whishaw, who plays Michael Banks, he’s never sung before. He was sort of nervous about how do you do that. I always feel that people can do so much. It’s just feeling that they can and knowing that they can.
I like to protect them in rehearsals. We had over 2 months of rehearsal. So it was during that time that you know you can fail and be bad you know and then learn to get better and not feel judged. That’s a really important thing.
Everybody was so nervous on this film because we were following that extraordinary film that means so much to me and so much to so many people. So we knew we were doing the impossible, but I honestly felt like if we did it together from the right place with a great respect for the first film and found our own way at the same time, then we would at least have done it in the right way.
What was he able to pull into Mary Poppins Returns from the original film?
I visited the Disney archives. They didn’t really have the archives in the 60’s, not much, there’s some. So you remember the blocks from Mary Poppins? We replicated the blocks. They didn’t gonna’ give us the blocks, but we replicated the blocks. They’re in the attic if you look. Also the snow globe, we replicated that as well. So the only real thing is that table in the front hall, which I saw at Club 33 at Disneyland and I said, “That’s in the movie if the let us have it” and they did. So that was really moving to me. And the kite, of course, we replicated that, [we] created our own version of the kite. Those very specific things from the first film that I really wanted to hold onto, that’s for the people who love the first film, who know it. It’s those first little Easter eggs. I use myself as a barometer the whole time. What would I want to see? I wouldn’t want to abuse it too much because it’s very easy to sort of overdo it, but I wanted to specifically and strategically place things that meant something to people.
What was it like to work with Dick Van Dyke?
He’s something else. I mean there’s no one like him. I was so excited and nervous to even call him to ask him to do this you know because he’s a hero for me. The Dick Van Dyke Show, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bye Bye Birdie, all of it. Talking to him, he just disarms you immediately. He’s so joyous and it’s just sort of who he is and he said yes so quickly. He wanted to be part. He was excited to be part of it.
When he came onto the set he, honest to God, grabbed my arm as we were walking on. He said, “I feel the same spirit here on this set that I did in the first film.” And I thought okay, well that’s everything. That’s all I need to hear. That was everything for me to hear that from him.
[In the dancing scene], I said to Lin and Emily I said, “If he falls off that desk you’re dead.” [laughs] Well, I said , “You are spotting him. So if he starts to wobble I want you to jump in.” Of course he was perfectly fine. In fact, he doesn’t even use Lin’s hand. When you see [the movie], Lin is literally standing there and he doesn’t use him, he just goes right up.
How did they create the music for Mary Poppins Returns, and how did they incorporate the music from the original film?
We did it together. I will say about an original musical that you have to actually do it together. There’s no version of people going off [on their own]. It’s all one piece. It’s a real puzzle, but I knew that when you hear the strains of Feed The Birds or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, whenever you hear or A Spoonful of Sugar, those mean so much to us. So you can abuse that. And so I strategically placed that exactly like the items, like the props and things. In fact, the majority of it happens literally in the last 15 minutes. I feel like we’ve earned it by that time. I feel like when she looks in the balloon and you hear A Spoonful of Sugar or they’re up in the air and you hear a little Let’s Go Fly A Kite, [it’s] because I think we’re coming full circle. Michael’s now a child and we tried to make it something that was emotional.
I will say when Dick Van Dyke does that monologue to the kids where he tells the story about Michael as a little boy and the tuppence and you hear Feed The Birds, I will tell you now that when I shot that scene, I like to work with music, so I had Feed The Birds, the music, in my ear and I’m watching Dick Van Dyke and I have him in my ear too and he’s delivering this monologue and I honestly broke down. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t say cut. I couldn’t say it. Nothing came out. I was so moved. I mean I think Emily said cut or something. That’s it, because I just couldn’t believe my life had come full circle. From a 4 year old boy having seen the film with Dick Van Dyke there, hearing Feed The Birds, watching him say that. He’s in our film 54 years later as a 91 year old man. I mean that’s just magic to me. It was total magic, I’m still not over it.
What was it like to create the animated sequence in Mary Poppins Returns?
That was the most challenging part of the whole filmmaking and it’s the first thing we shot, right away, because the Animators– you know it’s all hand drawn animation, every frame. So we needed to get that material to the Animators right away. And the reason our post production was, I think, close to 14, 15 months, because of the hand drawn animation. They needed that time. Can you imagine flip, flip-draw, draw? That crazy, it’s so hard. I would say the majority of them came out of retirement to do this. It’s kind of a lost art, although I have to say I was somewhat hopeful because a lot of the artists there really were also in their 20’s who were more interested in working on the hand drawn animation than the computer generated work. In a funny way, I thought it will seem fresh because we haven’t seen it for so long you know. You haven’t seen that beautiful artistry of work .
Putting that together, we started with the musical number A Cover Is Not The Book, and we had to shoot it literally 3 different times. So the first time you shoot it you shoot it with Mary Poppins. Let’s just for instance, say Mary Poppins and the Penguins section. So it’ll be Mary Poppins and then we would have reference dancers being the Penguins. So of course they’re not the size of the penguins. I mean I got small dancers, but not [that small]. So we set the frame and set the shot and film it like that. And then we would take them out and she would dance alone and pretend they’re there. And then I would take Mary out and put just the penguin, reference dancers in so that the animators would know exactly how, so all that’s very specifically choreographed. The layers of it were so complicated.
You walk into a huge green room and everybody’s trying to pretend that they’re in a carriage. The carriage isn’t moving because that’s all background. Everybody had to really launch their imagination to see what it was going to be, but I don’t think anybody quite expected what it was going to end up being until they saw it. And that was mind blowing for Lin and Emily and the kids.
Is there a chance for Mary Poppins to return again?
I’m just sort of holding my breath to see how this movie’s embraced, and how it does, and if people accept it and are excited by it. If it does [well] I think there will be talk about it because there is a lot of material. We walked through it and cherry picked what we thought were the best adventures that we could musicalize and create a set piece to, but I will say there was a lot left on the table as we were working through that.
The question would be, “What’s the narrative, what’s the story” because that’s what’s not in those books. So do we go backwards? Someone said, “Do you want to find out how she became Mary Poppins?” I don’t want to know about her too much. The best thing about her is that we don’t know. She definitely can visit other families and there are other stories there. There are a lot of Star Wars stories. There can be a lot of Mary Poppins stories.
I have lots more to share about Mary Poppins Returns right here on As The Bunny Hops-you don’t want to miss it! Mary Poppins Returns is in theaters on December 19, 2018!
In Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” an all new original musical and sequel, Mary Poppins is back to help the next generation of the Banks family find the joy and wonder missing in their lives following a personal loss. Emily Blunt stars as the practically-perfect nanny with unique magical skills who can turn any ordinary task into an unforgettable, fantastic adventure and Lin-Manuel Miranda plays her friend Jack, an optimistic street lamplighter who helps bring light—and life—to the streets of London.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is directed by Rob Marshall. The screenplay is by David Magee and the screen story is by Magee & Rob Marshall & John DeLuca based upon the Mary Poppins Stories by PL Travers. The producers are John DeLuca, p.g.a., Rob Marshall, p.g.a. and Marc Platt, p.g.a. with Callum McDougall serving as executive producer. The music score is by Marc Shaiman and the film features all new original songs with music by Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman. The film also stars Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks; Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks; Julie Walters as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen; Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and introducing Joel Dawson as the Banks’ children, with Colin Firth as Fidelity Fiduciary Bank’s William Weatherall Wilkins; and Meryl Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy. Angela Lansbury appears as the Balloon Lady, a treasured character from the PL Travers books and Dick Van Dyke is Mr. Dawes, Jr., the retired chairman of the bank now run by Firth’s character.