Now that Disney’s re-working of “Beauty and the Beast” has been released, which future film in the studio’s pipeline are Mouse House fanatics most excited about? Without question: it’s “Mary Poppins Returns”. The build-up and hype is similar: this is a new spin on a beloved favorite; the casting was extremely high-profile, with Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt ultimately landing the role; And the wait, like “Beauty”, is long: “MPR” doesn’t open until Christmas Day 2018.
This is not a remake of the 1964 original. Instead, “MPR” will explore chapters involving the flying nanny and the Banks family that are being brought to life from other books written by P.L. Travers. She, of course, was depicted by Emma Thompson in 2013’s “Saving Mr. Banks” – which told how Travers allowed Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) to take her cherished Mary from page to screen. And that wasn’t the first time Thompson had involvement in a character like Poppins, as she portrayed Nanny McPhee in Universal’s two family films (the first released in 2006, the sequel – “Nanny McPhee Returns” – in 2010).
Blunt’s supporting cast in “Mary Poppins Returns” is led by Meryl Streep, who will play Mary’s cousin, Topsy. This is third time Blunt and Streep have worked together, following “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Into the Woods”. Like “MPR”, that musical was directed by Rob Marshall. Colin Firth plays the new president of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. Angela Lansbury is the Balloon Lady, and Julie Walters is a housekeeper. Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw are the grown-up Jane and Michael Banks, whom Poppins visits on a return trip to London.
And “Hamilton” phenom Lin-Manuel Miranda takes the male lead role of Jack the Lamp-Lighter. Bert the Chimney Sweep won’t be in the sequel, but the legendary Dick Van Dyke will make a triumphant return as Mr. Dawes, Jr., the son of the elderly bank owner he portrayed in the original.
So the core casting, story and release date are set. First photos of Blunt in MP attire, complete with the parrot umbrella and bag, were recently unveiled online to very positive reviews. But the question still on everyone’s mind: What about Julie Andrews? She won her only Academy Award for playing Poppins more than 50 years ago. Currently, Andrews is busy with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, making Netflix’s “Julie’s Greenroom” (now streaming), which showcases the arts to young children.
In interviews over the past few months, Andrews has praised the casting of Blunt. But in a new conversation with Entertainment Tonight, Andrews gave her first official statement on whether she will appear in “MPR”, saying, “I don’t think I’m involved in it.” She then quickly acknowledged Blunt: “I’m a great fan. I think she’s terrific – and a perfect pick.”
I, like the majority of the world, would love to see Andrews return to the “Poppins” world – even for a just a cameo in the sequel. But I can also see why she wouldn’t want to. She wants Blunt to shine and maybe doesn’t want to take any of the spotlight away from her. That type of consideration is likely something Poppins herself would have instilled in Andrews.
Or, (and this is how I’m leaning) this is all a bluff and the producers are planning to sneak Andrews into the film, dropping here mysteriously out of the sky (metaphorically, in an effort to pull-off one of the great surprises in recent movie history. Could they pull that off? Maybe not – but why not try? Think about the buzz that would create around the movie when it hit theaters.
That’s my prediction. After all, how can you make a film called “Mary Poppins Returns” without Mary Poppins returning?