By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday March 19. The 2018 musical was a box office hit, earning to date more than $347 million worldwide, and garnering four Academy Award nominations for best original song, best original score, best costume design and best production design.
Academy Award winning filmmaker Rob Marshall, who has helmed screen adaptations of “Chicago,” “Nine” and “Into the Woods,” among others, directs the timeless sequel is based on the Mary Poppins stories by P.L. Travers, and stars Emily Blunt as practically-perfect English nanny, and Oscar nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Moana”) as charming lamplighter Jack, in the roles originally played by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, respectively, in Disney’s 1964 Academy Award-winning original.
In the film, Michael Banks (played by Ben Whishaw) is now a grown man raising his children Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) with help from his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer). Times are tough in Depression-era London but the winds begin to change and the enigmatic governess, whose unique magical skills can turn any ordinary task into a fantastic adventure, enters the lives of the Banks family once again—having not aged a single day. Teaming up with an old friend, Jack, they take the Banks children on a series of whimsical adventures, encountering colorful characters like Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy (Oscar winner Meryl Streep), Jack’s lovable band of leeries and bank executives William Weatherall Wilkins (Oscar winner Colin Firth) and Mr. Dawes Jr. (Van Dyke, in a new role)—bringing life, love and laughter back into the home. Disney mainstay Angela Lansbury (“Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “Beauty and the Beast”) has a small, but memorable role as the “Balloon Lady” toward the end of the film.
Bonus material on the home entertainment editions explores the making of “Mary Poppins Returns,” going behind the scenes with the star-studded cast and crew who collaborated to make even the impossible possible. Extensive extras include a trip down Cherry Tree Lane with Van Dyke, a sing-along version including the heartfelt Academy Award-nominated “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” bloopers, deleted scenes, a deleted song and filmmaker commentary.
Features also reveal the magic and moxie that went into creating large-scale musical production numbers, such as “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” a rousing song-and-dance number led by Jack and his fellow lamplighters; “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” and “A Cover Is Not the Book,” showcasing the musical talents of Blunt and Miranda; “Turning Turtle,” an upside-down sequence featuring Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin; and “Can You Imagine That?” an underwater adventure with Mary Poppins and the Banks children.
“Mary Poppins Returns” can be instantly watched on Digital UHD, HD and SD or audiences can bring home a physical copy of the film as the Ultimate Collector’s Edition (4K UHD, Blu-ray and Digital code), Multi-Screen Edition (Blu-ray, DVD and Digital code), a single DVD or a Digital Bundle with both “Mary Poppins Returns” and the 1964 classic “Mary Poppins.”
During a press day on the Disney Studios lot, Marshall sat down with Lansbury, a spry 93, to discuss the making of the film and what fans can expect within the loads of features on the home entertainment editions.
Q: What was special about making “Mary Poppins Returns?”
Marshall: It’s so rare to do a movie like this, 54 years after the first film. We knew, right from the start, that we were doing something extraordinary. We had humility because we knew we were following in the footsteps of that great film. Everyone signed on right away. Meryl Streep wanted to be part of this. Colin Firth wanted to be part of this. Lin-Manuel, in his first film, his first project, after (the stage production of) “Hamilton” wanted to do this. Emily Blunt said yes. Angela Lansbury said yes. Dick Van Dyke said yes. Everyone wanted to be part of sending this message of hope and light out into the world now. That’s why we wanted to be part of this.
The first “Mary Poppins” film was my first film that I ever saw. I was four years old. I saw it in a movie theater and it changed my life, the course of my life—even as a four-year-old—because it stays with you so deeply. It means so much to everyone. So, having people there recording the making-of and how we were putting this together and what we were doing, we knew it was special.
Q: Was the passion and heart evident on set?
Marshall: No question. I’d never done an original musical for film before. All the film musicals I had done had come from Broadway. That has its own specific challenges. This was creating something from scratch. We had the beautiful P.L. Travers stories. There are eight books and there’s all this wonderful material with these great characters, but they’re episodic adventures. There’s no narrative to any of the books. So, we had to create an original story. We chose to set it 25 years (after the 1964 film) with the next generation of the Banks family and what happened to Michael and Jane as they got older. I wanted to set the film in the ‘30s when the original books were written. The first book was written in 1934 and the second was written in 1935. When you read the books, you feel the Depression-era. They talk about the bank being broken and that 17 Cherry Tree Lane was the shabbiest house on the street. Mrs. Banks had a choice of either fixing up the house or having children. So, I wanted to set the film in the Depression era of the books. The first (film) was set in 1910, so here we were 25 years later and Michael and Jane would be older.
It was thrilling to create something completely new. That’s why we had so much rehearsal time. Not only did we have an original musical to create—we didn’t have out of town previews to try and get it right. You see the scale and enormity of what we had to accomplish, because there was a live-action animation sequence which was completely hand-drawn. We had to take a lot of animators out of retirement to do it because it’s a very rare skill. I really wanted to recreate the artistry of the hand-drawn work and these big-scale musical numbers. There was so much flying that had to be done. That whole underwater sequence was all on harnesses. We had children involved and so many dancers, stunt people, parkour, bikers, a massive production. In the scale of the classic MGM musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. We were all holding hands together and jumping off the cliff—we knew the bar was so high. We knew how lucky we were to be part of it.
Q: Were there any scenes cut?
Marshall: There’s a tiny scene on the (home entertainment edition). That was the only scene we cut at the end of Topsy’s scene, Meryl Streep’s scene, where they’re leaving on the bike in the alley and as they look back, the alley disappears as if it were never there. It felt too much like a double ending. But that was the only thing we cut.
Q: What was it like having Angela Lansbury in your cast?
Marshall: Probably one of the greatest actresses who has ever lived on the planet. She is my hero and has done everything. She’s completely brilliant in everything she’s done. We worked together in 1996 in a wonderful television musical Angela starred in called “Mrs. Santa Claus.” Jerry Herman wrote an original musical for her. They had worked together previously in “Mame” and “Dear World.” It was an incredible experience, it was my first experience in working on a film. So, she means so much to me in so many ways.
Lansbury: It was a wonderful beginning and look what you’ve achieved.
Q: What’s it feel like making a “Mary Poppins” film for a new generation?
Lansbury: I feel like a fish out of water, to be honest. Times have changed, obviously. We’re in a different world from the one in which I began (my career) all those years ago. I’m adjusting to it but I have to mind my P’s and Q’s. So, if I make some boo-boos, you’ll have to forgive me.
Marshall: Angela came from the era of the MGM musical, “The Harvey Girls,” etc. That’s the golden era of musicals on film. This film tries to recapture that extraordinary level of artistry. That’s something we all worked to achieve throughout. Having Angela in this film, even though it’s a small amount of screen time, but it feels so big because it’s Angela. You have to believe that his Balloon Lady is magical and who else has that magic. It’s not only her work as an actor, because she disappears into the role with such extraordinary artistry, but also the legacy of what she’s brought to film, starting with “Gaslight,” taking us through all the Disney projects like “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Beauty and the Beast,” so to have her there, leading the finale for us was the honor of my life.
Lansbury: It was a lovely experience for me because I had my granddaughter with me. It was her first time to be on a Disney set, which is pretty extraordinary, believe me. At that time, it was a first for her and it was the most thrilling experience of her life to see you directing these extraordinary crowd scenes. Doing the scene as the Balloon Lady was fun to do. You do it with one hand tied behind your back when you’ve done as many things as I have. But it was all about character. It was all about the times and it was a lovely experience for me and for her.
Q: Do you foresee another “Mary Poppins” sequel?
Marshall: There’s certainly a lot of material and as I said the books are episodic so there’s no narrative so you have to create a narrative but I do think there is a wealth of material available to work from, so we’ll see. I don’t know.
Q: How did you get the actors to tap into their inner child during the balloon scene?
Marshall: With someone like Angela, it’s easy because she carries that with her. Angela is ageless. It’s how she lives her life. She is an extraordinary woman. That’s the lesson right there. Find the child inside. Find the joy inside and music inside.
Lansbury: Think of the people I’ve looked inside throughout the course of my career. It would make your hair stand on end. (She chuckles.) To play a role in which I’m working with children, that’s something as a mother, as a woman, I’m anxious to do. In some instances, I’ve had an opportunity, mainly through Disney, and I’m so thankful for that because, otherwise, if you think of my career, what I’ve done in the past and who I’ve played, and what I’ve been asked to do as an actress, like “The Manchurian Candidate,” for example, it’s very different. I’m an actress; you can’t believe a word I’m saying.
I’ve been called upon as an actress to play such a variety of roles. That’s what I do. I have a God-given gift as a talent. I’m not saying I don’t because I really do, not with any sense of accomplishment, necessarily, but it was something I was just born with. I’m forever thankful and I thank God at night for it, and an extraordinary, fruitful career playing so many different things.
Working in a Disney film is something totally at the heart and different from any of the other roles I’ve played because it requires a simplicity and warmth and a humanity that doesn’t really exist in most shows I’ve done over the years. It’s a rarity to have an opportunity as an actress to be in a Disney film. I’ll play anything; just call me up, and I’ll be there because I love to work for children.
Kids will greet me on the street. When they hear my voice, they’ll say, “Oh, it’s Mrs. Potts.” God help me that I sound like Mrs. Potts all the time. But I’m grateful and thrilled that I had that opportunity over the long course of my career. It’s been wonderful.
Q: Would you like to see “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” remade using modern CGI technology?
Lansbury: No. It was lovely doing it. It was my introduction to Disney.
Marshall: Everything Angela has done is iconic for me and it’s impossible for me to see someone else playing her role. How many women do you know that are character actresses and leading ladies at one time? It just doesn’t happen. The word original is thrown around way too much but this woman is an original.
“Mary Poppins Returns” also is available now on Digital 4K Ultra HD and Movies Anywhere.