Mary Poppins is a classic that, up until now, has remained free from the sequel/reboot culture that has become synonymous with American cinema. In 2015, it was reported that Disney was moving forward with a sequel, titled Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train, Sicaro) and set to be directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into The Woods). Since the initial report, more and more names have been added to the cast: Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, and most notably, Meryl Streep and Hamilton creator/star Lin-Manuel Miranda. While this isn’t Disney’s first outing with making a sequel to a time-honored classic (see Return to Oz), they are setting themselves up for success. If executed correctly, Mary Poppins Returns may just live up to the original. Here’s just a spoonful of reasons that could help this film go down as a modern classic:
When I first heard that Emily Blunt was cast as Mary Poppins, I was excited. At the time of the announcement, Blunt had just come off her Golden Globe nominated role as The Baker’s Wife in another Disney/Rob Marshall production, Into The Woods. In the film, Emily proved she can sing (listen to ‘It Takes Two‘, featuring James Cordon). Emily Blunt is like a modern day Glenn Close, wonderful in every role but usually forgotten about when it comes to awards season. Additionally, she hasn’t had a “role” yet that truly makes her a household name. This could do it for her. She is joined by an actual legend, Meryl Streep, and the insanely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda. Both Streep and Miranda are passionate about their work, and I don’t think they would sign on to the film without it. The cast, as of now, is rounded out by Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer. Both are actors that most people have probably seen in something, but maybe not able to put their finger on what it was. However, they both can act. Whishaw gave a captivating performance in the 2012 film Cloud Atlas, while Mortimer portrayed MacKenzie “Mac” Morgan McHale in the beloved Aaron Sorkin drama, The Newroom. They are both stellar additions that can hold their weight against Blunt, Miranda, and Streep.
Rob Marshall is probably the best director when it comes to adapting stage to screen. He’s received 5 Tony nominations for his work on Broadway, and the films he’s directed have earned 26 Academy Award nominations in total. That includes one for Best Director for Chicago in 2003, and the film won Best Picture. Marshall also has a knack for bringing out some great performances (almost the entire main cast in Chicago received Academy Award nominations for their roles). This isn’t his first outing with Disney either, having previously directed Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Into the Woods. Pirates was a huge financial success for Disney (grossing over $1 billion at the international box office), and Into The Woods was received well critically (and received several Academy Award nominations as well). Into the Woods established relationships for Marshall with both Blunt and Streep (and Blunt worked with Streep on the 2006 film, The Devil wears Prada). Going into this project, they already have a stronger working relationship than most, which will most likely translate to better direction and performances on screen.
Many may not know that Mary Poppins originally started out as a series of books, with the titular novel first published in 1934. Walt Disney’s struggle to adapt the books into the beloved film today is chronicled in the 2013 film, Saving Mr. Banks. One major point the film highlights is Travers’ resistance to Disney’s “Disnification” of her stories, which resulted in her squashing future sequels at the time. Why make a sequel when the first was practically perfect in every way? Because there are still more stories. The Mary Poppins series spans eight books chronicling her other adventures. Travers didn’t stop after one; she had more stories to tell. Mary Poppins Returns isn’t just a cash grab for Disney, it is a continuation of story telling from a beloved narrative. Adapting books to film help create new readership and can help foster a love of reading (see Harry Potter, for example). While audiences may not have Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to captivate them, Disney’s lineup of all stars is more than qualified to future chronicle the adventures of Mary Poppins. Julie Andrews may have first brought her to life, but Mary’s story is much larger than just one iconic role.
While we’re still over two years out from the film’s release (December 25, 2018), Disney is definitely taking proper care to make sure this film is a story worth telling and that it will be the best it can be.