Disney Is Pulling Out All the Stops for Mary Poppins Returns

Despite the fact that Disney is one of the biggest and most successful companies in the world, they don’t always get it right. The most recent example of this is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, which has thus far grossed only $50 million on a $120 million budget and has been thoroughly panned by critics. This sort of thing made a lot of people nervous for Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel to the 1964 classic that Walt Disney himself famously fought for years to get the rights to make (see: Saving Mr. Banks). His effort was well worth it: Mary Poppins was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won 2, including Best Actress for Julie Andrews. Naturally, it would be a huge challenge to create a sequel that doesn’t tarnish the original—doing it justice more than 50 years later seems next to impossible.

But so far, it seems like anyone who has their reservations should rest assured that in Mary Poppins Returns, “everything is possible, even the impossible.” Disney is doing everything in their power to make a film that feels like an updated take on the original: they’ve hired director Rob Marshall, who choreographed and directed 2002’s Chicago; brought on musical consultant Richard M. Sherman, who worked with his brother Robert on the original Mary Poppins (and many other Disney classics); and are even creating a new animated sequence á la “Jolly Holiday,” the famous chalk drawing scene.

Of course, the biggest challenge was finding someone who could fill Julie Andrews’ “practically perfect” shoes. Being the world’s most famous nanny would be no small task—the right actress would need to evoke Andrews’ famous performance, while still making it different enough that audiences could get lost in a new story. Enter Emily Blunt, who can apparently dance and sing with the best of them. (Seriously—you can hear Blunt’s impressive singing chops in “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” a track Disney recently released from the film’s soundtrack.) And based on the trailer, Blunt seems to have Mary Poppins’ signature no-nonsense personality down pat. In fact, audiences should expect to see an even sterner take on Mary Poppins from Blunt, who has said she read the books by P.L. Travers and noticed that the story’s version had a “sharper edge” than Andrews had given her.

Disney has also surrounded their star with more powerhouse actors. Meryl Streep dons a blindingly orange wig and gypsy-style clothes to become “Topsy,” the odd cousin of Mary Poppins whose repair shop turns upside-down every second Wednesday; Colin Firth is the dastardly head of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, which is threatening to evict the Banks family from their home; Angela Lansbury is The Balloon Lady, a whimsical friend of Mary Poppins who sells magical balloons in the park; and Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack, a lamplighter, friend to Mary Poppins and apprentice of Bert, who was played by Dick Van Dyke in the original film.

Speaking of Van Dyke, he has a small role in this sequel, too—the 92-year-old is playing Mr. Dawes, Jr., the recently-ousted head of Fidelity Fiduciary. It’s a fitting role for Van Dyke, who on top of being Bert, also wore white hairpieces and sat through hours of makeup to be the curmudgeonly banker Mr. Dawes, Sr.—father of Mr. Dawes, Jr.—in the original film. And by all accounts, Van Dyke was just as spry on set of Mary Poppins Returns as he was dancing with Julie Andrews more than 50 years ago.

Knowing that Van Dyke has a small role in the film has people asking whether Julie Andrews will also make an appearance. While there’s a small chance filmmakers are being coy (it’s rumored she was offered the part of The Balloon Lady), the answer seems to be no. According to both Emily Blunt and Rob Marshall, Andrews declined to be in the film for fear that her presence would distract audiences from the new Mary Poppins. To be fair, she was probably right.