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While Disney’s 2018 sequel Mary Poppins Returns abounds with new material — a new story, new characters, new songs, and a whole new timeline that picks up on Mary Poppins and the Banks family 25 years later — there are still a handful of nods to the original 1964 film, because really, how could there not be?
Producer Marc Platt sums up the film’s relationship between past and present fairly well: “What makes this all exciting is that there is a pedigree, there is a history, there is an expectation from an audience, and the challenge and the joy has been, how do you pay proper homage and respect to what is beloved, but infuse it with freshness, with your own personalities, be it in the score, in the design, or in the story? How do you make the cinematic experience of a new Mary Poppins sequel its own thing, and yet still have that bridge to the past, so you get the best of everything?”
Homages in director Rob Marshall’s film should be taken more as tips of the hat, not tantamount cornerstones to the DNA of the sequel. Still, there are more than a few little buried nuggets organically embedded in the story that will trigger your emotions when they go down in the most delightful way.
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1. An animated musical number
Long live the penguins! The four dapper dancing birds return for a musical number that finds Mary and Jack leading the Banks children into an animated world inside a Royal Doulton bowl where, surprise, a grand music hall performance is about to take place. Veteran Disney and Pixar artists are already at work animating the well-dressed antelopes, polar bears, gazelles, and conductor orangutans who populate the cartoon Victorian opera house, where Jack and Mary tap onstage alongside the real stars of the show: the four hoofing penguins named after Astaire, Hardy, Grant, and Chaplin.
2. Admiral Boom (and his boat-themed abode)
The cannon-happy naval neighbor of the Banks family is indeed back — technically, he never left — and his ship-shape home on Cherry Tree Lane has received a careful update. “Nothing is an exact reproduction, but it’s our version,” says production designer John Myrhe. “That street’s a good example of something that’s not, say, exactly Boom’s house, but the goal was that when people walked on it, they’d go, ‘Whoa, this feels like Cherry Tree Lane.’ We want people to feel like they’re seeing something they’ve seen before, but really seeing it for the first time.”
3. A tip of the hat to a tip of a hat
Certain fashions of Mary Poppins are never going to go out of style, even with a chic makeover in the 1930s. She’s still got her talking parrot-head umbrella, for one thing, made with animatronic love by Myrhe’s team. But costume designer Sandy Powell has also found a way to incorporate Mary’s propensity for avian nature into her hat game. Like the curious little flower that popped up from the hat of Julie Andrews, “Rob wanted something quirky and memorable for [Emily’s] hat,” says Powell. “I thought of that little robin in the original ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ song…and we came up with a way to make these great little embroidered birds from thread.” (See if you can find it on our cover.)
4. Family ties
If you couldn’t tell already, there are plenty of connections to be made between the characters of Mary Poppins Returns and their predecessors — 25 years will do that to a family. Michael and Jane have chosen career paths that mirror their parents — he’s a banker, and she’s a union activist, which is as close to a Sister Suffragette follow-up as you can get — while Mary’s new costar Jack is a lamplighter who apprenticed as a child to a certain chimney sweep named Bert. (No, he does not share his accent.)
5. The park
You know what doesn’t get a good enough rap in the world of Mary Poppins? The park. Yes, it may not have the treasured tranquility of Cherry Tree Lane or the gritty Oliver pizzazz of the streets of London, but it’s always been a dependable spot of greenery and adventure for Mary Poppins, and in this film, the park plays a significant role in tugging at heartstrings, especially once springtime lands. To craft the public area, Myrhe’s team relied heavily on a map drawn in the ‘30s by Mary Shepard, the original illustrator of P.L. Travers’ books, who had penciled out a full diagram of her vision of the park (bearing the names of book characters like Neleus and Nellie-Rubina). Myrhe then used it as a guide to create the park you’ll see onscreen, which includes an abandoned section that serves as a stomping ground and showplace for a big musical number featuring that noble group of lamplighters, the Leeries.