Saving Mini Banks
Little did you know that Walt Disney’s 1964 film erased more than half of the Banks children in the family’s leap to the screen. In P.L. Travers’ original eight-book series, Michael and Jane Banks had twin baby siblings, John and Barbara, who were a major part of the story from as early as Travers’ first book; a year later, Travers’ second book Mary Poppins Comes Back introduced another Banks infant named Annabel. In a subtle nod to the literary Banks, Mary Poppins Returns reassigns two of those lost children’s names—John and Annabel—to two of the three children of grown-up Michael (Ben Whishaw). However, Michael’s third child is a boy named Georgie, so… #JusticeForBarbara, as the kids say.
Dick Van Dyke’s showstopping cameo is not the only glorious return from an esteemed cast member of the 1964 Mary Poppins. Eagle-eyed audience members will spot 63-year-old Karen Dotrice, the O.G. Jane Banks, in a fabulous momentary flash as a passerby who asks for directions to another house on Cherry Tree Lane. Her role in the credits is “Elegant Woman,” a title that can presumably also be applied to her real life since Mary Poppins.
The shackles of yesterday
Kind-hearted matriarch Mrs. Banks (Glynis Johns) is not around in Mary Poppins Returns, but the spirit of the good sister suffragette lives on in the sequel. It’s there in the career of grown-up Jane Banks, who has followed her mother’s activist footsteps and dedicated herself to the cause of a labor organization called SPRUCE (the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Underpaid Citizens of England), but even more tangibly, the spirit of Winifred Banks is present in a memento that plays a pivotal role: her old “Votes for Women” sash serves as the very tail of the kite used to catch Mary Poppins from the skies.
An overture homage
In his research through the Disney Archives, director Rob Marshall found a series of oil paintings of London from the late Peter Ellenshaw, a legendary Disney artist who famously painted, among other iconic images, the matte landscapes for the original Mary Poppins film. Marshall decided to use some of Ellenshaw’s evocative concept artwork to set the tone for his sequel, opening Mary Poppins Returns with a full overture that plays over a carousel of art. About one-third is Ellenshaw’s own work, while the other two-thirds are bespoke concept pieces commissioned to emulate the late great’s style.
Spines of note
Pay close attention to the litany of literature that springs to life behind Jack and Mary in “A Cover is Not the Book.” The spines of the giant books are populated with the titles of some of Travers’ most famous chapters from her Poppins series, like “The Day Out,” “Lucky Thursday,” and “The Marble Boy.” Other references are more overt, like Nellie Rubina, a wooden human about whom Mary sings an entire verse.
Marshall of the penguins
An animated musical number was non-negotiable for director Rob Marshall in taking on Mary Poppins Returns, but one can assume a similar case was made for the iconic penguins who danced around with Mary and Bert back in 1964. It’s not quite an Easter egg to say that the sequel sees the fine-flippered foursome dancing along with Mary and Jack in the song “A Cover is Not the Book.” Less-known, however, are the penguins’ names, dubbed in loving honor of Fred Astaire, Oliver Hardy, Gene Kelly, and Charlie Chaplin.
The imagery of “Feed the Birds” is well-represented in Mary Poppins Returns — there’s a sweeping shot of birds flying away from St. Paul’s, and an equally emotional moment in Michael’s attic upon rediscovery of the snowglobe that Mary Poppins once showed him and Jane while she sang that melancholy tune. But composer Marc Shaiman added in another major homage to the beloved song (written by Richard and Robert Sherman and arranged by unsung composer Irwin Kostal). Shaiman transplanted the final chords from Kostal’s orchestrations into the huge crescendo in the score that plays as Emily Blunt’s Mary ascends into the clouds one last time at the end of the sequel. And let’s just agree: the tears you probably cried are an homage, too.