15 Tantalizing Details We Learned From The Mary Poppins Returns Set Visit

Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.
After 54 years spent in whatever realm Mary Poppins lives, the kind-hearted nanny with a magical handbag is swooping back into our lives. On December 19, 2018 Mary Poppins Returns hits theaters nationwide. Frankly speaking, it’s about time. We could use spoonful of sugar in our lives.
There are a few details about Mary Poppins Returns that we can extrapolate from the trailer. We know that it's set in 1930s London. We know the Banks children are all grown up, and Michael (Ben Whishaw) has children of his own. And we know that Mary, who will be played by Emily Blunt, is just as desperately needed as she had been in the original 1964 movie. But thanks to our visit to the Mary Poppins in spring 2017, we know even more about Mary Poppins Returns than the trailer can tell us. Refinery29 was able to speak to stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, producer Marc Platt, production designer John Myhre, and costume designer Sandy Powell to get a preview of Mary Poppins Returns. Here are the 15 most fascinating details from the movie we've been keeping secret since the visit.
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1. First things first: Emily Blunt isn't trying to compete with Julie Andrews.
It's one thing to headline a blockbuster franchise. It's another thing to inherit a blockbuster franchise from a beloved actress like Julie Andrews, who played magical nanny Mary Poppins in the original movie. Blunt confessed to Refinery29 the challenges of approaching a role with such a legacy. "I have not watched the originals since I was a child, cause no one is going to outdo Julie Andrews. This is just going to be my version of [Mary]. I just try to approach her as I would any other character and not be caught up in the white noise of, 'Oh my god, You are Mary Poppins,'" Blunt said.
The whole team believed in Blunt. "We could only think of one person to step into the shoes and to own the role of Mary Poppins, and that was Emily Blunt," said producer Marc Platt.
2. One big question solved: Mary Poppins hasn't aged.
Platt explained that Mary lives "outside of time." She's the only character in the movie who hasn't aged.
3. The movie will feature lots of dancing.
"The dancing has been the most daunting prospect for me," Blunt said of the role. Platt assured that Blunt "dances magnificently," and we agree. Journalists were treated to a performance of the song "Trip a Little Light Fantastic," and can guarantee you're in for a treat. Rob Marshall, who directed the movie musicals Into the Woods and Chicago, was also heavily involved with the choreography. And everyone will dance with penguins.
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4. The sequel mirrors the original thematically.
Mary Poppins Returns zooms forward to Depression-era London and focuses on Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), and Michael's three children. Like his father, Michael works at the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank and lives in the same house on Cherry Tree Lane. As Platt explains, Mary arrives after a loss in the Banks' family to see "if she can bring joy back into their lives."
5. If Michael grew up to be like his father, then Jane grew up to be like her mother.
The Banks children's mother, Winifred, had been a politically progressive suffragette. Jane inherited her mother's political leanings and now works as a union organizer. She uses her mother's suffragette sash as a kite tail for the children.
6. Lin Manuel Miranda's character, Jack, isn't quite the same as Dick Van Dyke's chimney-sweep, Bert.
Rather, as Platt explains, Jack is a "protege" of Bert. Whereas Bert was a chimney sweep, Jack is a "leerie," or a lamp lighter. Leeries rode around on bicycles and climbed up lamp posts with ladders, lighting gas lamps. Essentially, leeries were responsible for bringing light into the world (kind of like what Manuel Miranda does now, just sayin'). Jack is already familiar with the character of Mary Poppins because he had apprenticed under Burt.
Like Van Dyke, Miranda will attempt a cockney accent. He'll also add his own twist to the role and rap 1934 dance hall style.
7. Fans of Miranda's musical In the Heights might sense a crossover between roles.
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When Marshall and Platt approached Miranda about the character of Jack, Miranda immediately saw a connection between Jack and his character Usnavi from his first musical, In the Heights, "The central metaphor from that was he’s the street lighter in the neighborhood. At first he sees it as, he’s stuck here and everyone gets to go everywhere else. But then he refocuses himself says, 'Oh, it’s my job to tell these stories, to shine a light on these stories on this corner.' It felt very close to home, the role, as soon as they pitched it to me."
8. Dick Van Dyke will be in the sequel, but Julie Andrews won't.
Though we mostly remember Dick Van Dyke for his role as the chipper chimneysweep Bert, Van Dyke also played the banker Mr. Dawes in the original movie. In Mary Poppins Returns, he'll be Mr. Dawes' son, who is about the same age as Mr. Dawes. "He looks kind of the same as in the original film, he just doesn't have to wear much make-up," Platt said.
Andrews, the other stalwart from Mary Poppins, won't appear so as to not upstage or distract from Blunt. Marshall recalled to Entertainment Weekly, "[Andrews] said, ‘This is Emily’s show, and I really want it to be Emily’s show. I don’t want it to be, 'Oh, here comes that Mary Poppins.' I don’t want that. I really want her to take this and run with it, because she will be brilliant.’”
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9. Meryl Streep's character, Topsy, hails from the same realm as Mary Poppins.
Topsy is a distant cousin of Mary's. "She kind of lives in an upside-down world," said Platt. Topsy runs a fix-it shop. Here's what we don't know: Is Topsy a nickname or her given name?
10. The new music fits right into the Mary Poppins sonic tradition.
Marc Haiman and Scott Wittman, the team behind the music in Hairspray and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, created the musical's new songs. The team was careful to ensure the songs would fit with the original's. "Even though you haven’t heard them before, there is something about the music that seems familiar. I think that is always a sign of a great song, if you feel like I’ve heard this, and you realize you haven’t, but it’s just that good that it strikes a chord in you," said Platt. Miranda described the music as "a love letter to the original."
11. Everything had to look "Londony."
The first Mary Poppins was filmed entirely on Disney sound stages, but Marshall aimed to give this movie's setting a more accurate feel. Marshall sent production designer John Myrhe to London to find exterior locations. His team created the fake word "Londony" to encapsulate the look they wanted. "I told everyone on my team — all my set designers, and illustrators, and painters — that everything we do from now on needs to be Londony," Myrhe recalled. The team ended up recreating London hallmarks, including Big Ben.
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12. A lot of work went into ensuring the magic of the opening shot.
Production designer Myrhe explained the theatrics of the opening moments of Mary Poppins Returns. "The film opens up in the winter time, and then at the end of all the Mary Poppins magic, spring comes magically overnight to London. So we needed a street that could look like this illustration here with all the bare trees and kind of grey and then magically, suddenly burst out in cherry blossoms. So we built trees that were 30 feet tall that could one day be winter trees, and then over the course of a two-week period where we pulled all the limbs out and put in new limbs, 900,000-1 million cherry blossoms had to be put on by hand, so that was the reason we ended up using this as something that we built here on the stage. Almost all the other streets are going to be real."
13. Like the 1964 original, this movie will have extended animated sequences.
But don't expect it to be exactly the same. In the original, live-action characters interacted with animated characters. Platt promised this dynamic, plus a twist. "We do it in our own contemporary way…So we have that wonderful set piece of music and dance, done with live action, set against a whole animated world."
14. Mary got a wardrobe update.
Marshall wanted this new Mary to have a signature eccentricity, like the flowers the original Mary wears. Costume designer Sandy Powell said she "didn't want to go anywhere near floral looks" in order to keep the characters separate. She landed on a red hat affixed with an embroidered hat pin. The embroidered robin was Powell's nod to the robin in the original “Spoonful of Sugar.” She also has a lot of polka dots in her outfit. "It's a nice decorative frivolous touch. Also, polka dots were incredibly popular in the 1930s," said Powell.
15. Mary Poppins Returns aims to bring magic into your life.
You can go into the theater for Mary Poppins Returns expecting some soul medicine. The movie aims to deliver. "The magic, the hope, the optimism, the connectivity that Mary Poppins brings as a character to the family and the world around her is really what I think people are yearning for in their lives. To be transcended out of all our craziness and feel the warmth and comfort of a familiar character, and yet take and original, fiercely original journey with that character in a world that is magic. In a world that is music. In a world that is joy ,and a world that is love, and brings us back to our innocence and our childhood – something we could all use a healthy dose of," said Platt.
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