It’s almost time to “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” in your very own home! After a successful theatrical run, heaps of critical acclaim, and four Academy Award nominations, Disney’s long-awaited musical follow-up Mary Poppins Returns is coming to Digital HD and Blu-ray this month, and we can’t wait to watch it again.
In celebration of Mary Poppins Returns’ arrival on home media, the film’s director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods) sat down with its costar, the legendary Angela Lansbury (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Beauty and the Beast) at the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California to discuss the making of the movie and its impact on the cast, filmmakers, and fans as it becomes available to own.
Rob Marshall first addressed the behind-the-scenes featurette entitled “The Practically Perfect Making of Mary Poppins Returns,” which runs about 22 minutes in length and is divided into four chapters chronicling the film’s development, rehearsals, production, and music. “It was so great having the wonderful [documentary] folks on set with us, because we knew we were doing something special. It’s so rare to do a movie like this, fifty-four years after the first film, so that was incredibly moving. I think all of us knew right from the start that it was something extraordinary.”
“Everyone wanted to be part of sending this message of hope a light out into the world now, and that’s really why we wanted to be part of this. The first Mary Poppins film was my first film that I ever saw. I was four years old [when] I saw it in the movie theater, and it changed my life. It means so much to everyone. I think having people there [on set] recording the making of [Mary Poppins Returns], we knew it was special. The Disney team was incredibly and extraordinary, and I was very happy that they were there.”
Surprise guest Angela Lansbury discussed how she felt being part of such a momentous project after having worked with Disney in notable roles several times prior. “It was a lovely experience for me, because I had my granddaughter with me, and it was her first time to be on a Disney set, which is pretty extraordinary when you’re a young kid. Me as the balloon lady, that was a fun scene for me to do. You do it with one hand tied behind your back when you’ve done as many different things as I have, but nevertheless it was all about character. It was a lovely experience.”
Lansbury also commented on the character of Mary Poppins as a phenomenon, and why the persona has echoed through the ages since the original P.L. Travers books were published in the 1930s. “I think you have to remember that she’s a magical character, and therefore her effect on children is extraordinary because she brings a quality of magic with her without them even realize that that’s what she’s doing. And I think that’s what makes Mary Poppins a character that kids never forget.”
Marshall remarked on the decision to create a sequel to Mary Poppins rather than a straight-up remake. “I had never done an original musical for film before. All the film musicals I had done had come from Broadway, and that has its own specific challenges. But this was creating something from scratch. We had the beautiful P.L. Travers stories, eight books and all this wonderful material with great characters, but they are episodic adventures. There’s no narrative, and so we had to create an original story. We chose to set it 25 years later [than the original film] with the next generation of the Banks family. What happened to Michael and Jane as they got older? I wanted to set the film in the 30s, when the original books were written.”
“When you read the books, you feel the depression era. They talk about the bank being broken, or that 17 Cherry Tree Lane was the shabbiest house on the street and Mrs. Banks had a choice between fixing up the house and having children. So I wanted to set the film in the depression era. It was thrilling to create something completely new. That’s why we had so much rehearsal time, which you see a lot of [in the featurette]. Not only did we have an original musical to create, but also you see the scale and the enormity of what we had to accomplish. There was a live-action / animation sequence, which was completely hand-drawn, big-scale musical numbers, there was flying. We had children involved, so many dancers, so many stunt people. It was a massive production.”
Angela Lansbury continued by expressing her joy about having worked with Disney multiple times over through the years. “To play a role in which I am working with children, to make them feel comfortable and happy, certainly that’s something as a mother and as a woman I’m anxious to do. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to [do that], mainly through Disney, and I’m so thankful for that. Working in a Disney film is something totally apart and different from any other roles that I’ve ever played, because it requires a simplicity and a warmth and a humanity that doesn’t really exist in most shows that I’ve done over the years, and there have been a lot of them. It’s a rarity to have the opportunity as an actress to be in a Disney film.”
And Rob Marshall concluded the discussion by articulating just what it is about Ms. Lansbury that made her cameo appearance in the movie so special. “Angela came from the golden era of musicals on film, and I think [Mary Poppins Returns] tries to recapture that extraordinary level of artistry. That’s something that we all worked to achieve throughout. For me, I just have to say having Angela in this film… it’s a very small amount of screen time, but it feels so big because it’s Angela. You have to believe that this balloon lady is magical, and who else has that magic?”
Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns arrives on Digital 4K Ultra HD and Movies Anywhere on Tuesday, March 12, and the following Tuesday, March 19 on Blu-ray.
Mike has been fascinated by theme parks and Disney all his life. He has worked in the entertainment journalism field since 2015, after spending a decade as a film projectionist at one of Hollywood’s most prestigious movie theaters. He resides in Burbank, California with his wife and cat.