More than half a century after she flew into the clouds holding her umbrella, magical nanny Mary Poppins is back.
This Christmas, she is once again descending from the heavens in the biggest film of the season, Mary Poppins Returns.
Julie Andrews has handed over her cape and carpet bag to British ‘Devil Wears Prada’ actress Emily Blunt for the follow-up to the Disney classic.
Filled with ground-breaking special effects which merge actors with animated characters, the Disney movie cost an estimated £150 million, ten times the 1964 original, to make.
Here Tanith Carey reveals some of the secrets behind the long-awaited sequel.
LONG-AWAITED RETURN TO A TROUBLED WORLD
The sequel takes place in the capital in 1934 and sees Mary called back to help her former charge Michael Banks- now a father-of-three
The wind is in the East and there’s a kite in the sky. So if you’ve seen the original movie, you’ll know what comes next.
For the first film, the action was set in Edwardian London in 1910. For the sequel, it takes place in the capital in 1934.
Mary is called back to help her former charge Michael Banks, now a father-of-three, played by Ben Whishaw, who is despondent over the death of his wife and money problems which means he risks losing their home.
Also helping to care for his children is his sister Jane, played by Emily Mortimer, who takes after her campaigning suffragette mother by becoming a union activist.
When Michael dumps his old kite in the bin, it is picked up by his youngest son Georgie, who flies it the park nearby — only to bring it down to earth with Mary Poppins attached.
For Mary’s grand re-entrance, costume designer Sandy Powell says it was essential that the character’s new reincarnation cut a recognisable silhouette.
‘You’re trying to do another version of an iconic look. And, in a way, her character can’t change too much as she’s always the same person like Peter Pan or James Bond.’
To bring her up to date, Mary’s skirt has a shorter hemline, she wears a double cape made of cobalt blue and carries a carpet bag with a Thirties Art Deco design.
Sandy says: ‘Traditionally, a nanny’s coat would have been navy blue, but I wanted Mary to add brightness to a dark, grey world’.
Despite her dainty landing, Emily Blunt admitted she was terrified while filming the arrival scene because of her fear of heights.
Emily says: ‘I was 50ft in the air and so scared. As I landed, one of the camera guys came up and said: ‘I got really choked watching you arrive there.’
‘It reminded me people really need a film and a moment like this. Maybe we didn’t realise how much we wanted Mary to come back.’
WHY JULIE TURNED DOWN £1 MILLION TO APPEAR
When Emily Blunt took the part, she wanted to make it her own. Rather than study the original film again she read author P.L. Travers’s original eight books instead
When Surrey-born Emily Blunt took the part, she wanted to make it her own. Rather than studying the original film again — which she hadn’t seen since she was a child — Blunt read author P.L. Travers’s original eight books instead.
Emily, 35, says: ‘I decided not to be intimidated by Julie Andrews in the iconic role, and just approached it as I would any other part. No one is going to out-do Julie Andrews.’
Blunt found a different side to the nanny in the books, written in Thirties and Forties — ‘a little more acerbic and vain and weird’.
Indeed it’s a portrait the Australian-born Travers would probably have preferred, having loathed the saccharine portrayal of her creation in the first film.
Emily was the only actress approached to reprise the role made famous by Sound Of Music Star Julie Andrews, now 83.
And, despite a rumoured offer of over £1 million to make a cameo, Julie Andrews turned down the invitation.
Director Rob Marshall says: ‘Julie was incredibly gracious, but she made it clear right up front.
‘She said: ‘I really want it to be Emily’s show. I really want her to take this and run with it, because she will be brilliant.’ ‘
However only two members of the original onscreen Banks family survive — Glynis Johns, who is now 95, who played Mrs Banks, and Karen Dotrice, now 63, was her daughter Jane.
David Tomlinson, who was strict father George Banks in the original, died in 2000 aged 83, while Matthew Garber who played his mischievous son Michael died age 21 in 1977 after catching hepatitis during a trip to India.
THE MOST FAMOUS ADDRESS IN CHILDREN’S BOOKS
The grand home of the Banks Family — 17 Cherry Tree Lane — is based on the houses overlooking Regent’s Park
The home of the Banks Family — 17 Cherry Tree Lane — is the one of the most recognisable addresses in children’s fiction.
Although there is no such address in London, the grand home is based on houses overlooking Regent’s Park. However the film-makers also built a street in Shepperton Studios, lined with cherry trees.
Production designer John Myhre says: ‘The film opens up in the winter time. Then at the end of all the Mary Poppins magic, spring comes magically overnight to London. So we needed a street that could magically, suddenly burst out in cherry blossom.
‘So we built trees that were 30ft tall that could one day be winter trees. Then over the course of a two-week period, we pulled all the limbs [branches] out and put in new limbs — between 900,000 and one million cherry blossoms had to be put on by hand.’
Production designer John said one of the best moments was taking Dick Van Dyke, who played chimney sweep Bert in the first film, to see the street rebuilt.
‘His face lit up and he said: ‘This is not our Cherry Tree Lane, but it’s Cherry Tree Lane.’ ‘
As ever, one of the family’s neighbours is Admiral Boom who lives next door in a ship-shaped house from which he fires a cannon.
P.L. Travers’s inspiration was a quirky four-storey house, with a roof balcony and flag pole, which still can be found in Admiral’s Walk in Hampstead.
It was once home to George Gilbert Scott, the famed Victorian architect who built the Albert Memorial.
COSTUMES THAT ARE ‘PRACTICALLY PERFECT’
A team of 50, including textile artists, tailors, seamstresses and milliners, had to make sure the nanny looked ‘practically perfect in every way’
Designers went to extreme lengths to make sure the nanny looked ‘practically perfect in every way’.
For that, a team of 50, including textile artists, tailors, seamstresses and milliners had five months and a budget of £2.5 million to make 450 costumes, 467 pair of shoes and 228 hats — spread over 180 clothing rails.
To make sure it looked more whimsical than costume drama, many of the outfits feature polka dots and candy-cane style stripes.
All in all, Mary Poppins had seven outfits designed to look more chic and less fussy than the original Sixties versions.
Details included hand-crafted Art Deco buttons. Instead of flowers on her hat, Mary now has a delicate robin, a homage to the animatronic bird who duets with Julie Andrews in the first film.
However, Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell admits it took a while to get the bird’s size and expression right.
She says: ‘I think [the director] thought the first one was a little bit chubby.’
The final touch, says Emily Blunt, was tilting her lipstick-red hat at ‘a saucy angle’. The star says it was only then that: ‘I truly felt like the character.’
The cheeky talking parrot at the end of Mary’s umbrella also makes a comeback — except that he is now chattier and remote controlled. When director Rob Marshall was first shown the bird, he was taken by surprise — because it started talking to him.
In another nod to the original film, when Mary looks into the mirror, her reflection watches her from the other side and gives her a wink.
FILM’S WORST COCKNEY ACCENT
In the original, Dick Van Dyke played doddery old banker Mr Dawes Sr, who employs Michael Banks. Now the actor reprises the role, this time as Mr Dawes’s son
American actor Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent as a London chimney sweep has gone down in film history for all the wrong reasons.
Indeed, the actor himself has branded it the worst ever, claiming that his vocal coach was Irish and didn’t know how to do one himself.
Van Dyke spent two days on set often bringing cast members like Emily Blunt to tears by singing snippets of the original songs
Dick, now 92, says: ‘People in the UK love to rib me about that accent. They ask what part of England I was meant to be from and I say it was a little shire in the North where most of the people were from Ohio.’
In the original, Van Dyke also played doddery old banker Mr Dawes Sr, who employs Michael Banks.
Now that’s he’s hung up his chimney brush, the actor reprises the role, this time as Mr Dawes’s son, who would now be the same age — so this time Van Dyke needed no make-up to age him.
Van Dyke spent two days on the set of the film, often bringing cast members like Emily Blunt to tears by singing snippets of the original songs.
FROM CHIMNEY SWEEP TO LAMPLIGHTER
In the new version, Mary Poppins’s sidekick is Jack, who is played by a Puerto Rican composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda
In the new version, Mary Poppins’s sidekick is Jack, who – instead of sweeping London’s chimneys – lights the city’s remaining gas lamps instead.
He is played by a Puerto Rican composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, best known for creating the smash hit stage musical Hamilton.
To head off similar problems with the accent, Lin-Manuel, 38, says: ‘The [producers] said: ‘If you want him to be American, he can be.’
‘I said: ‘No, I’m trying my hand at the accent. We’re doing this. I don’t want to be in a Mary Poppins movie and not have a British accent.’ ‘
At times, Miranda said the multi-tasking he had to do for the role was a challenge: ‘I light a lamp, ride a bike, steal an apple from a cart, throw it to an orphan child all while singing in a Cockney accent.
‘That moment is the hardest 10 seconds of my life. I’m sure there are takes of my absolutely just whacking orphan children, just throwing apples!’
THE UPSIDE DOWN WORLD OF AUNT TOPSY
Meryl Streep joins the new cast as cousin Topsy Tartlet. She has a fix-it shop in which everything, from grand pianos to china and statues, turns upside down on a Tuesday
In the original film, Mary’s only relative was Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn), who laughs so much he floats on the ceiling.
For this outing, she is joined by her cousin, Topsy Tartlet, played by Meryl Streep.
She has a fix-it shop in which everything, from grand pianos to china and statues, turns upside down on a Tuesday.
As a result, the Oscar-winning actress performs her song Turning Turtle upside down from a chandelier.
Designers say her shop was the most challenging of the 50 sets to build.
Topsy’s costume — inspired by Bohemian poet Edith Sitwell — was also the hardest to make and based on a pair of Twenties vintage pyjamas and a kimono.
For three weeks, a team of ten textile artists bleached the material before hand-painting it with Art Deco patterns of orange, pink, turquoise and yellow.
To complete the look, Streep asked for a vibrant orange wig cut into bob which was topped off with a green turban and curtain tassles for earrings.
THE BATH THAT BECOMES AN UNDERWATER ADVENTURE
Mary and the Banks children Georgie (Joel Dawson), Anabel (Pixie Davies) and John (Nathanael Saleh) go on a series of adventures in the film
Just as they did in the first film, Mary and the Banks children Georgie (Joel Dawson), Anabel (Pixie Davies) and John (Nathanael Saleh) — embark on a series of Technicolor-style fantasy adventures.
One of the most beloved in the first film was when the characters jumped into Bert’s chalk pavement pictures to discover a magical world where they interact with cartoon characters.
And rather than use computer-generated images, the makers returned to traditional hand-drawn animation, a technique not employed in a Disney movie for nearly ten years.
However in other parts of the film, computer animation is used when a dolphin beckons the children into the bath tub — and leads them to an underwater fantasia.
The mix of special effects and live action meant that, although the live filming only took four months, Mary Poppins Returns spent more than a year in post-production, as long as a science fiction movie.
RETURN TO A VICTORIAN MUSIC HALL
In one scene in which the children break a Royal Doulton bowl, Mary decides the only way to fix it is to disappear inside it
When the children break a Royal Doulton bowl, Mary decides the only way to fix it is to disappear inside it.
She spins the bowl around, creating a whirlwind that transports them within.
Once there, Mary Poppins picks up her umbrella, and turns it to create a tent which turns into a Victorian music hall where Jack and Mary put on a show — with dozens of dressed-up cartoon animals in the audience.
To help the character fit with the animated creations, costume designer Sandy Powell says they wanted to make the humans’ clothing look two-dimensional, as if had also been drawn by the animators.
The outfits were then made out of canvas-like material which was hand-painted with details like collars, buttons and bows.
Sandy Powell says: ‘I wanted the effect on all of these costumes to look like watercolour on paper with the white coming through.’
THE RETURN OF THE PENGUINS
In the new movie the dapper bow-tied penguins return once more. At the time of the original movie it was a pioneering move to combine live action and animation
The scene where Dick Van Dyke as Bert performs a tap dance with a group of four bow-tied penguin waiters was one of the most beloved from the original movie.
At the time it was a pioneering move to combine live action and animation — shot against a bright yellow, rather than green, screen — which was so hard on the eyes that the actor reported he couldn’t see by the end of the day.
Now the dapper penguins have returned once more — named after Hollywood legends, (Fred) Astaire, (Oliver) Hardy, (Cary) Grant and (Charlie) Chaplin — to perform a music hall number with Mary and Jack.
As well as some of the favourites from the original movie, the film also features nine new songs written by the same team who wrote the musical Hairspray, but which are intended to sound as if they could have been written in 1964.
Although she has to match the legendary singing voice of Julie Andrews, Emily Blunt also has no problem holding a musical note.
Before she became an actress, she was considering career as singer until she was spotted in a school production performing at the Edinburgh Festival.
A LOVE LETTER TO LONDON
The film include’s so many of London’s landmarks- from areas outside the Bank of England and also Buckingham Palace
The film has been called a ‘love letter to London’, because it includes so many of the city’s landmarks.
Areas outside the Bank of England and also Buckingham Palace were taken over during night shoots by hundreds of extras on vintage bikes and buses borrowed from the London Transport Museum.
To add to the atmosphere, mist was used to look like a pre-war fog.
However, actor Lin-Manuel Miranda said using the iconic locations piled on the pressure to get the scenes right first time: ‘The adrenaline was pumping. You’re never coming back to Buckingham Palace to get a second take.’
Throughout the film, the set is built on many levels to show as many dancers as possible during the musical numbers.
To perfect the scenes, the actors and dancers rehearsed for eight weeks to get every move perfect — even though in some scenes they had to interact with cartoon partners who were not added until after.
Miranda says they had to work with instructions such as: ‘The penguin is going to be heavier holding on to your cane. Can you show us that?’
In order to recreate a scene with Big Ben for the climax, the filmmakers built a giant recreation of the clock face in a studio — all to scale, after making set visits to Westminster to see how it worked close-up.
Production designer John Myhre says: ‘The clock face and sections of the tower are completely authentic and an exact reproduction of what is behind the clock face. It’s a little bit of movie magic.’
Mary Poppins Returns is released in the UK on Friday, December 21.