Life tip: Catch up on your chores before Mary Poppins commands you this Christmas. Or, conversely, don’t, and find that the banal things like bathtime will become brilliant when there’s a magical nanny around to help you discover the joy in the job.
Eighty-four years after writer P. L. Travers debuted the enigmatic nanny Mary Poppins on the page, and 54 years after Julie Andrews immortalized her onscreen in Disney’s 1964 classic, it’s now Emily Blunt, director Rob Marshall, and an all-star cast who are shepherding Mary Poppins back to Cherry Tree Lane for this winter’s Mary Poppins Returns (Dec. 19).
“There’s never been a moment when I’ve felt like I want to in any way re-do the original,” explains Marshall, who directed, among other movie-musicals, the Oscar-winning Chicago. “The thing that’s so mortifying is when people say it’s a remake. Never. No one could touch that,” he continues. “But can we continue the tradition of that storytelling with our own cast, with our own world, with our own sensibility? There’s so much more story to tell, and it’s because the character’s so great.”
It’s right back here on Cherry Tree Lane, some 25-odd years after the first film, that the story of Mary Poppins and the Banks family continues: An economic slump has claimed the Banks family home and a tragedy has claimed the wife of grown-up Michael (Ben Whishaw), leaving him, his three children, and sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) without much hope or happiness these days. That’s the jumping-off point for the vision of Marshall, producers John DeLuca and Marc Platt, and screenwriter David Magee.
In the filmmakers’ effort to embrace the 1964 film but stay true to the further adventures of Travers’ eight-book children’s series, “we felt it was important to not only reflect the depression era [of the books], but that there had to be a very important reason for Mary to come back,” says Marshall. “It had to be something true and real, and so in our film, Michael’s a young father who has three kids and has not only lost his wife, but because of the time period, has also lost his whole sense of wonder and joy and optimism.”
Enter the plausibly implausible Mary, who brings with her the kind of adventures you’d expect of the beloved nanny — not to mention the tunes, written by veteran songwriting team Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Mary charms the dread out of household chores (“In our film, taking a bath becomes a magical adventure,” says Marshall); introduces the Bankses to more of her eccentric relatives (like Meryl Streep’s oddball cousin Topsy); and kicks up her heels. In particular, Blunt and costar Lin-Manuel Miranda (who plays a street-smart, singing lamplighter) shine in one of the film’s showstopping numbers, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” a musical gambol through London, pictured exclusively above.
“She’s just such fun to play,” gushes Blunt, who took her principal Poppins inspiration from Travers’ novels and the film His Girl Friday. “I’m so different from this character, but I do know a lot of people like her, so it does feel familiar,” she continues. “The dancing is the thing I really had to learn. Lin and I are not trained dancers in any way, so that was the most arduous part. You see why dancers have the best bodies on planet Earth. You just pour with sweat all day.”
Well, fortunately, we know someone who makes bathtime quite the enchanted experience.