On the Ba­sis of Sex, Mary Pop­pins Re­turns and Vice

Look­ing to re-cre­ate that prac­ti­cally per­fect magic, the cre­ators of Mary Pop­pins Re­turns go back to the source

Newsweek - - News - HOL­I­DAY MOVIES BY ANNA MENTA @an­nalikest­weets

in 1934, the writer p.l. travers in­tro­duced Mary Pop­pins, who quickly be­came the ideal of the no-non­sense Bri­tish nanny for gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren. The char­ac­ter was named for her ten­dency to pop into the lives of her young charges, set­ting things to rights with brisk ef­fi­ciency, un­shak­able con­fi­dence and the oc­ca­sional act of magic (up­side-down tea par­ties, for ex­am­ple), which she duly de­nied. Mary was an ir­re­sistible mix of sta­bil­ity and es­capism in one prim, pointy pack­age—at least as drawn by il­lus­tra­tor Mary Shep­ard.

In the first novel, Mary is blown by the east wind to 17 Cherry Tree Lane, the home of the Banks fam­ily. Walt Dis­ney re­tained that en­chant­ing de­tail, at least, when he adapted the book 30 years later for the screen, trans­form­ing Pop­pins into a Tech­ni­color con­fec­tion star­ring an al­to­gether softer Julie An­drews (in her

fea­ture film de­but), Dick Van Dyke and a kick line of an­i­mated pen­guins.

The 1964 mu­si­cal was mas­sively pop­u­lar and crit­i­cally ac­claimed, re­ceiv­ing 13 Os­car nom­i­na­tions. The tone was dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent from the book, but it was pos­si­ble to love them both. Travers, how­ever, was not happy. A no­to­ri­ously prickly con­sul­tant on the first film (as dra­ma­tized in 2013’s Sav­ing Mr. Banks), she was quoted as say­ing that the film­mak­ers “never un­der­stood Mary Pop­pins.” An­drews, who won for best ac­tress, was, to Travers’s mind, too sweet, the en­tire film coated with heap­ing spoon­fuls of sugar. But many sus­pect no ac­tress or film adap­ta­tion would have sat­is­fied the au­thor, who wrote in a let­ter to Walt Dis­ney, “The real Mary Pop­pins, in­evitably, as it seems to me, must re­main within the cov­ers of books.”

Dis­ney pestered Travers for a se­quel, and the au­thor did even­tu­ally cave, writ­ing a sec­ond film in the late ’80s, with writer Brian Si­b­ley. It was never pro­duced: Julie An­drews wouldn’t com­mit, and there were depart­ment changes at the stu­dio, so “the project foundered,” Si­b­ley tells Newsweek. Travers died in 1996. “As far as I am aware, the rights passed to her son, Camil­lus, and af­ter his death [in 2011], to his wife and chil­dren.”

With the fam­ily’s ap­proval, the cel­e­brated nanny—hat on, um­brella in hand—will blow into Lon­don again, this time at the end of a kite, in Mary Pop­pins Re­turns. At 54 years, it’s the long­est gap be­tween se­quels for a live-ac­tion, the­atri­cal re­lease on

record. While it’s im­pos­si­ble to say if Travers would ap­prove this time, she’d likely find this Mary, played by Emily Blunt, more ap­peal­ing. (The Golden Globes nom­i­na­tors were en­chanted enough to put the film up for four awards, in­clud­ing best mu­si­cal or com­edy and for Blunt.) The ac­tress, best known for her work in grit­tier adult fare, like A Quiet Place and Si­cario—was a fan of the books’ Mary, who is “a lit­tle more of a taskmas­ter, a lit­tle more will­ing to deny [that magic] was hap­pen­ing,” says screen­writer David Magee. “I like that about the books too.” While read­ing them, he kept a run­ning list of Pop­pins quips. One of his fa­vorites—“pol­ish­ing the key­hole?”—is Mary’s re­ac­tion to the Banks fam­ily’s maid spy­ing through the front door. “Only P.L. Travers would have thought of that phrase.”

In the 1964 film, an at­trac­tion be­tween Mary and the tap-danc­ing chim­ney sweep Bert (Van Dyke) is im­plied. Ac­cord­ing to Dis­ney his­to­rian Paula Sig­man Low­ery, Travers had de­manded “no hint of ro­mance” be­tween the two. She’d be pleased, as well, to see an ab­sence of such non­sense in the new film. Magee and direc­tor Rob Mar­shall (Into the Woods, Chicago) “briefly ex­plored the pos­si­bil­ity of some sort of at­trac­tion but very quickly put that no­tion aside,” says the screen­writer. “If there is some­one out there for Mary Pop­pins, we haven’t met them yet.”

The big­gest chal­lenge for this film was fig­ur­ing out why, “if Mary did the job we all be­lieve she did in the first film, the Banks fam­ily would need her again,” says Magee. To an­swer that ques­tion, he, Mar­shall and pro­ducer John Deluca re­turned again to the source. Travers’s books “were set dur­ing the De­pres­sion—the Banks home is de­scribed as the shab­bi­est house on the street,” says Magee. “The first film was moved back to the turn of the cen­tury be­cause [Walt Dis­ney] didn’t want it to feel sad. But we liked [the De­pres­sion] as a start­ing place more than a rich fam­ily who doesn’t ap­pre­ci­ate all they have.”

The new film­mak­ers there­fore aged the Banks chil­dren, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mor­timer), 20-some years. Michael—a re­cent wid­ower and sin­gle fa­ther to An­abel, John and Ge­orgie—is an as­pir­ing artist forced to take a job at his late fa­ther’s bank to save the fam­ily home. His un­mar­ried sis­ter, Jane, helps with the chil­dren be­tween or­ga­niz­ing la­bor protests and be­ing courted by Jack (Hamil­ton’s Lin-manuel Mi­randa), a for­mer ap­pren­tice to Bert (Van Dyke has a cameo).

The songs, from com­poser Marc Shaiman and lyri­cist Scott Wittman (Tony win­ners for Hair­spray), are, like the story, all new, with a few nods to the orig­i­nal Os­car-win­ning score by the Sher­man broth­ers. “We wanted to reach cer­tain touch­stones with­out repli­cat­ing them, to make you feel like you’re on the same ad­ven­ture with a dif­fer­ent story,” says Magee of the lamp­lighters in­stead of chim­ney sweeps, bal­loons in­stead of kites and, of course, an an­i­mated se­quence. “That said, maybe a pen­guin or two slipped in.”

The orig­i­nal books are filled with “won­der­ful self-con­tained short sto­ries,” he says, as well as wacky an­tics and char­ac­ters, like Mary’s ec­cen­tric cousin Topsy, played by Meryl Streep—a gen­der-swapped ver­sion of a char­ac­ter from the sec­ond book, Mary Pop­pins Comes Back. Travers con­tin­ued writ­ing the se­ries un­til 1988, the eighth and last be­ing Mary Pop­pins and the House Next Door.

For Magee, this new chap­ter is a con­tin­u­a­tion of a legacy that will keep evolv­ing. “There is some­thing eter­nal about Mary Pop­pins and what­ever magic it is she pos­sesses,” he says. And while the tim­ing of the film might seem to point­edly ad­dress our di­vided times, “we weren’t re­spond­ing to cur­rent events. We just wrote what we felt. This is a film about find­ing hap­pi­ness again. There’s nowhere to go but up.”

“7his is a ˽lm about ˽nd­ing has­si­ness. 7here’s nozhere to go but us.”

UN­CANNY NANNY Blunt plays a char­ac­ter closer to the Pop­pins of the nov­els. Be­low: An an­i­mated se­quence— an in­ten­tional nod to the 64 ɿlm.

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