Why 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' isn't in Mary Poppins Returns
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When audiences finally get to see Mary Poppins Returns this December, they’ll hear all the songs and stories that Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and director Rob Marshall have been sitting on since first pledging their support to Disney’s sequel to the 1964 musical classic. But one thing audiences won’t hear, much less have meticulously spelled out for them letter by letter, is the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
You know it, of course, from that indelible scene in the original Mary Poppins, in which Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke shout out the word in jubilation when there’s simply nothing else to say. To many audience members, it’s likely among the first concepts they associate with Mary Poppins. The filmmakers of Mary Poppins Returns feel no differently — but that’s why they felt the word had to be preserved in the original film and not reprised in the sequel.
“The truth is, from the very beginning, we knew how loved the first film was, and we wanted to pay homage to it and make reference to it, but we wanted to make sure that when you started our film, you were watching a new story, a new installment,” says screenwriter David Magee (who also penned Finding Neverland and Life of Pi). “The hope is that once we’ve gotten you fully into our world, we could use little tiny references or turns of phrase in music to remind you of a connection, but not constantly rely on the original to say, ‘See? See?!’ We thought it was more respectful to earn your interest in this movie, and then make it a much fuller experience by connecting it to the old film.”
Marc Platt, the prolific producer behind musicals like Into the Woods, La La Land, and Wicked, speaks in more general terms about the film’s approach to its predecessor: “We wanted to create the story with our own language and in our own way with a nod to the past, but to make it fresh and interesting and stand on its own. The challenge in creating a new score for this is to, like the rest of the film, put a foot in the original, but very much [let it be] its own thing with its own personality.” But Platt knows a thing or two about how to navigate the tricky world of adapting something beloved by audiences. He teases no shortage of Easter eggs in Mary Poppins Returns — “little nuggets that, if you know the movie, provoke both emotional experience and also kind of delight” — but the producer stresses that any throwback to the 1964 film “had to be organically embedded in an original story with an original score and original storytelling.”
And since “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is not exactly the most naturally occurring word out there, one can imagine the difficulty of finding an organic place for Blunt’s Mary Poppins to drop it in this new adventure.
While we’re on the subject, what fans might also be surprised to learn is that much as the adjective is inexorably linked to Mary Poppins, the word does not actually appear in P.L. Travers’ original eight-book series (the first book of which inspired the 1964 film, while the next three laid the heavy foundation for the 2018 sequel). Composers Richard and Robert Sherman supposedly invented the nonsensical tongue-twister when they interpreted Travers’ character for Walt Disney in the ’60s. Travers was, as the legend goes, not pleased.
Nevertheless, for Mary Poppins fans who are eager for more verbally exhilarating, lingually debilitating, fascinating forays into the whimsical world of language — your tongue may be in luck yet.
Mary Poppins Returns not only utilizes Miranda’s rapping acumen in several songs, but the film also introduces “The Royal Doulton Music Hall,” a clippy and quippy patter tune penned by songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman that might the supercalifragilistic heir apparent fans are expecting. Sung by Mary Poppins and her friend Jack (Miranda) when they escort the Banks children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) through the animated world of a porcelain bowl, it may very well check the box of Mary Poppins’ signature vivid vocal dexterity without cribbing from that iconic word that your autocorrect still doesn’t quite forgive you for.