'Mary Poppins Returns' Director Rob Marshall Breaks Down The New Cast [Set Visit]

I visited the London set of Mary Poppins Returns back in 2017 and came away thoroughly charmed. Director Rob Marshall's upcoming sequel to the Disney classic looks to have its heart in the right place every step of the way, complete with two thoroughly charming leads, elaborate musical numbers, and even an extended animation sequence where the cast gets to dance with cartoon animals. It all seems so lovely.

With the film now just over a month away, a new batch of images has arrived alongside a new featurette diving into how the film came together. And because we have even more from our original set visit that didn't make the initial cut, we've packaged it all together with some quotes from Rob Marshall about the new cast, that big animated sequence, and more.

This is Not a Remake

One thing that was emphasized time and time again during our set visit was that Mary Poppins Returns is not a remake of the 1964 classic. No, this is a proper sequel, set several decades later and following the same characters and a collection of newcomers. It's very much intended to continue the story of the first movie, not replace it.

Marshall explained that Poppins author PL Travers offered them a wealth of material to work with in her other books. Plus, it had to be a sequel because he would never even consider a straight-up remake of a movie as iconic as Mary Poppins:

"Well, of course, it's daunting. You are following a classic film. But what I was unaware of, and became aware of, is that PL Travers wrote eight books throughout the course of her life, so there was so much material. The second book was called "Mary Poppins Comes Back," and then there was one called "Mary Poppins Opens the Door" and "Mary Poppins in the Park," there were all these books that she wrote, so there was already all this material that existed. And I know that in the '80s for instance, when Jeffrey Katzenberg was at Disney, I know they explored the possibility of doing a sequel, and why wouldn't you, especially with all of this material? But, as we famously know, PL Travers was very protective of the material so it was always very difficult to try and make happen. And having seen the first film, I would never consider a remake...you don't touch that film." 

There Had to be an Animated Sequence

Like many fans of the original movie, Marshall knew the sequel needed a scene where Mary Poppins and the other characters enter an animated world. So he found a sequence from another Travers book that would allow them to do just that:

"I mean honestly, as a huge fan of the first film, what would I want to see? I'd be so disappointed if they they didn't disappear into a world of animation, because if you go back to the PL Travers' books, in the first one they go into a chalk painting...in "Mary Poppins Comes Back" they go into a Royal Doulton bowl. They disappear into it, so it just made sense to do because it felt like it was in the DNA of that world. And we've obviously come a long way in terms of animation. Most of it is computer-generated now, but what's lost with that is that sense of artistry, this beautiful and extraordinary work."

However, it was this sequence (as well as other elaborate set pieces) that necessitated such a lengthy post-production process:

"I really thought it would almost feel new again because it hasn't been done for so long, and what was really quite extraordinary is that many animators came out of retirement. Also very interesting, we had a lot of animators in their 20s who were much more interested in doing the old school animation as opposed to the new computer-generated work, and it was fascinating to see them at work. And now we can move the camera through a two-dimensional painting in a more modern way so that you're actually inside it. If Disney would have had this technology back then, I'm sure he would have used it, too. So when you see the film, you are in this 2D hand-painted world but in a three-dimensional way. It's why our post production has been longer than normal. I mean, we have all been in post-production for a year because of that, but it is live action and animation so there's this wonderful interaction between the two, and I believe everyone feels it was worth it. Everyone agreed it felt fresh again, when you see them speaking to these animated characters that are drawn that way and you feel that artistry, you feel a sense of nostalgia."

Only Emily Blunt Could Play Mary Poppins

If you take one look at Emily Blunt dressed as that magical nanny and think, "Yeah, I can't imagine any other modern actress playing this role," you're certainly not alone. Marshall agrees with you:

"Well, I had worked with her on Into the Woods, and I fell in love with her. There's quite a list of things you must be able to do to play Mary Poppins, you need to be a great actor, but there's also a humanity in the character. Even though she's very upright and a strict nanny who is proper and so forth, underneath that there is this magical being who is bringing joy. Of course she would deny all of this, but underneath there has to be a warmth and an accessibility and joy and humor, so it was so important to find an actor who could do those things. But she also needed to sing and dance, which is very rare these days. And I thought it was important that she be British because it's such an iconic British character. And having just worked with Emily, I get what she does. I get her humor...we're very simpatico. In fact, I don't know who else could play the role besides Emily, to be quite honest." 

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Like seemingly everyone who has ever worked with the award-winning Hamilton creator, Marshall has nothing but nice things to say about Lin-Manuel Miranda:

"Here's the thing about Lin, and if you spend time with him you would see...he's like a bright pure spirit, and that's truly who he is. So in addition to all the amazing skills he has as a writer and a composer, there's not a jaded quality about him, which is very unique. And we were looking for a wonderful companion to Mary Poppins who goes on these adventures, someone with that same spirit, that sort of purity of spirit. This is the first project he chose to do after Hamilton, and the contemporary thing was actually very helpful, because we made this film that is set in 1934, in 2018."

Miranda's character in Mary Poppins Returns is essentially the new Burt, stepping in for Dick Van Dyke's chimney sweep to act as companion to Mary and the Banks kids. And the role was built around Miranda's unique presence:

'And oddly enough, he is kind of an everyman, his character, and Lin understands that. The kind of character Dick Van Dyke played, which is the kind of character he's playing, not a chimney sweep, but a lamplighter, but there are a lot of similarities. At the beginning of the film he's rapping like he's a one-man band, which just felt so right for him. The big question was what he would be interested in doing as his first project after Hamilton, and I think he was excited to be seen as an actor again and not as a composer or writer. Plus, I think he was excited to do his first big film, and seeing as how he had just become a father to another beautiful child, it just sat right with him."

Meryl Streep

When you gender-swap a character from a PL Travers book, why not cast the legendary Meryl Streep? Marshall explained how Fred Turvy became Topsy Turvy:

"Well, there's a character in the book "Mary Poppins Comes Back," named Fred Turvy, a man, so we thought well, that's interesting. He was similar to Uncle Albert from the first film because when PL Travers wrote these books, they always have some similarities. So there was a great character, a really fun character who fixes things, and they went to fix this bowl that they break. And the message is that he sees things from a different point of view because everything turns upside down on this certain day and Mary Poppins explains that sometimes it's good to see things from a different point of view, so it's a beautiful message, a wonderful message for kids. And so we thought, if it were a woman, what if we worked with someone that we adore, that I adore, and who we just worked with on Into the Woods: Meryl Streep. I wonder if she'd be interested in doing a character part like this, a small part, just one sequence in the film, so I asked her and she said, 'What took you so long to ask?' She said, 'Of course,' for the reason I explained before. She said she wanted so much to be a part of bringing this kind of film to the world, so that was very exciting."


Mary Poppins Returns hits theaters on December 19, 2018.