I’ve got exciting news – Mary Poppins Returns is in theaters THIS week! I’ve already seen it twice and can’t wait to take my whole family to see it. The movie is whimsical and magical and just plain FUN. Mary Poppins Returns is directed by Rob Marshall, who is known for directing Chicago, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Into the Woods.
It was so fun interviewing Rob Marshall because you could clearly understand the passion he had for making Mary Poppins Returns and how much he loved the original and loves the character of Mary Poppins.
Encouraging His Cast
Emily Blunt had shared with us that she was afraid of heights yet shot a scene where she was flying in the sky. Ben Whishaw shared with us that he had never sang before yet felt completely encouraged by Rob Marshall to do so in the film. We asked Rob how he goes about encouraging his cast and he told us, “You know it’s sort of interesting – when I work with Actors I really find they need to feel positive reinforcement you know and it’s such a simple thing to do. It’s like being a really good parent you know. And I try and achieve that when we’re working you know.
For instance, I mean as an example Ben Whishaw, who plays Michael Banks, he’s never sung before you know. He was sort of nervous about how do you do that and I always feel that people can do so much. It’s just feeling that they can and knowing that they can. I like to protect them in rehearsals when– you know we had over 2 months of rehearsal. So it was during that time that you know you can fail and be bad you know and then learn to get better and, and not feel judged. That’s a really important thing.
I like to protect Actors to make them feel they can do things and try things. And everybody was so nervous on this film because you know we were following that extraordinary film that means so much to me and so much to so many people. So we knew we were you know doing the impossible, but I honestly felt like if we did it together from the right place with a great respect for the first film and found our own way at the same time then we would at least have done it in the right way you know and then you hope that it works you know.”
Props From The Original Movie
When asked if there were any props in Mary Poppins Returns that was in the original movie, Rob shared, “I visited the Disney archives. They didn’t really have the archives in the 60’s, not much, there’s some. What there is I saw, so you remember the blocks from Mary Poppins? We replicated the blocks. They didn’t gonna’ give us the blocks, but we replicated the blocks. They’re in the attic if you look. Also the snow globe you know. We replicated that as well.
So the only real thing is that table in the front hall, which I saw at Club 33 at Disneyland and I said, “That’s in the movie if the let us have it” and they did. So that was really moving to me, but you know and the kite of course we replicated that and you know created our own version of the kite, but those very specific things from the first film that I really wanted to hold onto if I could. That’s for the people who love the first film who know it. It’s those first little Easter eggs. You know I use myself as honestly as a barometer the whole time. What would I wanna’ see? I wouldn’t wanna’ abuse it too much because it’s very easy to sort of overdo it, but I wanted to specifically and strategically place things that meant something to people, yeah.”
Working with Dick Van Dyke
We of course had to ask him what it was like to work with the Legend, Dick Van Dyke. Rob told us, “He’s something else. I mean, there’s no one like him. I was so excited and nervous to even call him to ask him to do this you know because he’s a hero for me you know. That’s the Dick Van Dyke Show for me honestly. Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang, Bye Bye Birdie, all of it, so you know talking to him he just disarms you immediately. He’s so joyous and it’s just sort of who he is and he said yes so quickly. He wanted to be part– he was excited to be part of it.
When he came onto the set, he honest to God grabbed my arm as we were walking on. He said, “I feel the same spirit here on this set that I did you know in the first film.” And I thought okay well that’s everything. That’s all I need to hear. That was everything for me to hear that from him.”
The Bathtub Scene
I absolutely love the bathtub scene which is the first time that you hear Mary Poppins sing. Rob shared a bit more about the scene with us, “Well it’s her first adventure you know. She arrives and so you have to look for something. You know the great thing about the P.L. Travers books is that even though there’s no narrative to any them they’re all just episodic.
It’s all about taking an ordinary everyday event and turning it into something magical. An adventure that’s fun and even you know cleaning up your room turns into an adventure in the first film right? So I was looking for something that kids hate and it’s taking a bath. So I thought how can she turn– because they’re so cynical, the kids, you know except for the little one who loves her and believes right. But they’re all sort of judgmental and wary. I thought you know the great thing about Mary Poppins she does these adventures, but denies them ever happening and kinda’ just does them without you know announcing them.
All of a sudden that Dolphin comes up, she goes not yet, and things like that. You know what’s going on you know? But I thought that could open up to a beautiful world and there is an underwater adventure. It’s not from a bathtub, but there is an underwater adventure in one of the Poppins books. There are 8 of them.
I thought, well we could use sort of the feeling of the P.L. Travers underwater and then I came up with this idea of her seeing all the people from the neighborhood below the water you know as they’re moving through and trying to open the eyes of these kids that have grown up too fast, been forced to become adults too quickly.”
The Combination of Animation and Live Action
One of my favorite scenes (okay, I have a lot!) is where they combine the live action with animation. We asked Rob about filming that and he told us, “That was the most challenging part of the whole filmmaking and it’s the first thing we shot, right away, because the Animators– you know it’s all hand drawn animation, every frame. So we needed to get that material to the Animators right away. The reason our post production was I think close to 14, 15 months was because of the hand drawn animation. They needed that time. So I mean it’s that thing. Can you imagine flip, flip-draw, draw? That crazy– it’s so hard. I went and visited them. I would say the majority of them came out of retirement to do this. It’s kind of a lost art, although I have just to say I was somewhat hopeful because a lot of the Artists there really were also in their 20’s who were more interested in working on the hand drawn animation than the computer generated work. So that was really good.
I thought it will seem fresh because we haven’t seen it for so long you know. You haven’t seen that beautiful artistry of that work. Putting that together, we started with the musical number Covers Not The Book and we had to shoot it like literally 3 different times. So the first time, you shoot it you shoot it with Mary Poppins. Let’s just for instance, say Mary Poppins and the Penguins that section. So it’ll be Mary Poppins and then we would have Reference Dancers being the Penguins. So of course they’re not the size of the Penguins. I mean I got small Dancers, but they were you know, and so we set the frame and set the shot and film it like that.
Then we would take them out and she would dance alone and pretend they’re there. And then I would take Mary out and put just the Penguin Reference Dancers in so that the Animators would know exactly how, so all that’s very specifically choreographed. I don’t know if you remember the little Flamingo, that’s all choreographed with women because I wanted to be able to control the choreography of even that. So the layers of it were so complicated you know. You walk into a huge green room and everybody’s– you know I’m trying to pretend that they’re in a carriage.
You know the carriage isn’t moving because that’s all background, but the kids have to have an eye line that watches like a big giraffe go by. And we have this huge Giraffe, for instance, on a pole you know just walking it past to the kids are imagining it. You know everybody had to really launch their imagination to see what it was gonna’ be. I don’t think anybody quite expected what it was going to end up being until they saw it. And that was mind blowing for Lin and Emily and the kids. They were blown away by, “Wow that’s what we were doing you know.”
Rob was so great to interview – he sure knocked it out of the park with Mary Poppins Returns! Make sure to read about my experience at the Mary Poppins Returns premiere!
Mary Poppins Returns in Theaters December 19th
In Disney’s MARY POPPINS RETURNS, an all-new original musical and sequel, Mary Poppins is back to help the next generation of the Banks family find the joy and wonder missing in their lives following a personal loss. Emily Blunt stars as the practically-perfect nanny with unique magical skills who can turn any ordinary task into an unforgettable, fantastic adventure and Lin-Manuel Miranda plays her friend Jack, an optimistic street lamplighter who helps bring light—and life—to the streets of London.
Disclosure: Thanks so much to Disney for bringing me out to California for the event. All thoughts and opinions are my own.