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Disney In Depth: The Buzz Behind ‘Mary Poppins Returns’
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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It’s not going to be a spoonful of sugar for director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into The Woods) to develop a sequel based on the most acclaimed and respected live-action Disney film of all time: Mary Poppins. After many months of speculation and much anticipation, Disney has officially announced the title and release date for the next chapter of Poppins.

Mary Poppins Returns flies into theaters on December 25, 2018. Will this Christmas debut be a gift worthy of belonging in Jane and Michael’s bedroom, or more like a lump of coal Bert would have likely found in a chimney? This edition of Disney In Depth evaluates the casting, crew, and many elements that will help form the sequel.

Mary Poppins and Bert

First, let’s be clear about one thing. This is not solely a cash grab. Sure, Mary Poppins is a lucrative brand that Walt Disney himself sought to acquire the rights to for many, many years (as depicted, if not entirely accurately, in Saving Mr. Banks). However, Mary Poppins Returns will, in fact, be based on further titles written by P.L. Travers herself. The press release indicates that the movie takes place 20 years after the original in Depression-era London. Michael and Jane are now adults, and Poppins revisits them after a family tragedy. Julie Andrews will not reprise her iconic role, but rather another English actress who has never truly gotten her due for her range of work: Emily Blunt.

Blunt is that type of performer who has starred in both big-budget Hollywood films (Edge of Tomorrow, Looper) and indies (Sicario, The Young Victoria) with effortlessness, but has yet to star in a life-changing role. Mary Poppins Returns could very well serve her well. Though this sequel is set two decades after the first, Blunt is only around six or seven years older than Andrews when she played the character. How will the film address this is unknown, but likely Poppins possesses even more of a sage attitude. I cannot think of better casting for this character. Blunt boasts a fantastic singing voice, as evidenced in her Golden Globe-nominated performance in Into The Woods, has strong acting chops, and even possesses the wit and charm I would identify in the character. Whether or not Blunt landing this role will draw audiences to check out the film in theaters cannot be said at this point, but it has surely generated much excitement.

Emily Blunt

Equally so, her co-star is at the top of his game these days: Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda. The inspiration behind Broadway’s biggest sensation in years, Miranda is in every sense a musical superstar. Hamilton has transcended the Great White Way to enter most everyone’s radar. Its album consistently tracks at the top of the iTunes soundtrack charts, and Miranda represents the face of the musical. He will also be helping write the music for November’s Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studio’s next animated feature. Miranda will not play an older Bert in Mary Poppins Returns, but rather a lamplighter named Jack. Perhaps he will be Poppins’ new counterpart. Miranda’s musical chops shall also work to the sequel’s favor, as there is no doubt that songs will shape the story.

The third key player to Mary Poppins Returns has been a mainstay for Disney, even if not a lucky charm from a box office standpoint. Rob Marshall, who first entered the Disney universe as the director of the hit television adaptation of Annie in 1999 for The Wonderful World of Disney, was later was responsible for Miramax’s Chicago, a major smash with critics and viewers, and in attaining accolades. Memoirs of a Geisha and Nine, outside of the Mouse House, were not quite the success stories he would have hoped for, whereas Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (a weak performer domestically, yet earned more than $1 billion worldwide) tanked with audience reception. On the other hand, it’s my second-favorite Pirates film.

Into the Woods brought the Broadway show to life and, while it was a modest performer for the Walt Disney Studios and garnered some decent awards recognition, still disappointed in the eyes of many in the movie industry. Interestingly enough, though, Disney sees the value of Marshall through enlisting him to make this movie. I am confident in his musical chops and apparently Disney is, too. Yet who would ever want to be the person responsible for potentially ruining individuals’ memories of Mary Poppins should the movie not win over audiences? On the contrary, he could also reinvigorate the brand to be more popular than ever before. What an undertaking. What an opportunity.

Saving Mr. Banks Image

The Christmas Day 2018 release, assuming it remains in that slot, is still a good 2.5 years away from now. This will likely allow for the crew to resolve any issues with editing, visual effects, and reshoots. Its timing is indicative of several factors. For one, this date positions Mary Poppins Returns as the must-see holiday film that aims to rake in box office cash and awards attention. Remember how a few years ago a little film called Saving Mr. Banks was destined to be Disney’s next big thing? It performed solidly, although not wonderfully, in revenue and did not obtain that Oscar nomination for Emma Thompson that everyone felt was a sure bet. Saving Mr. Banks was not a perfect film by any means, as it was layered with historical distortion and storytelling issues. However, three qualities make it special in my book: Saving Mr. Banks‘ rich performances are among the best I have seen in any Disney film of the past decade, while its Oscar-nominated musical score and deeply emotional themes add a level of complexity to the story. Geared more for adults than children, Saving Mr. Banks possessed a different tone, too. Mary Poppins Returns, I suspect, will carry across those aforementioned characteristics, but will potentially offer more enchantment and majesty to younger viewers.

The Christmas release may also suggest Disney’s interest in positioning the movie as worthy of Academy Award nominations. The performers and music will likely catch the eyes of the Academy, assuming everyone involved in the film delivers their best. A late December release also means that Disney may have a popular movie playing into the dead weeks of late January.

There’s no way Mary Poppins Returns can be as “practically perfect” as the 1964 masterpiece, but Blunt, Miranda, Marshall, and company can all certainly try to craft a miraculous movie more than a half-century in the making. Thankfully, it’s not a reimagining of the original film, unlike the approach Disney has been taking with live-action versions of The Jungle Book and Alice in Wonderland. Instead, the sequel expands the story arc of the peculiar nanny with lots of life lessons in store for viewers of all ages. Who’s ready for more Mary? I know I am!

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.

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