Some familiar faces cropped up in Marry Poppins Returns. But Julie Andrews – who portrayed the titular character in the original 1964 movie – was not among them. And it turned out that the actress was invited to join the cast but declined for an important reason.
Before Mary Poppins became a hit movie, it was a series of children’s books. P.L. Travers wrote eight novels about the magical nanny that were published from 1934 to 1989. The writer herself, Pamela Lyndon Travers, lived from 1899 to 1996.
Travers, real name Helen Goff, was born in Australia but spent the majority of her life in England. While she is best known as an author, she got her start as an actress. Despite her parents’ reservations, Travers pursued an acting career in the United Kingdom but then began writing the Mary Poppins novels.
The creation of the film version of Mary Poppins was a family matter for Walt Disney. His two daughters were huge fans of the books and pleaded with him to make a movie out of them. So he started on what would become a decades-long quest to make that happen.
As many people know, Disney – born in 1901 – set up his own studio where he developed cartoons. He created Mickey Mouse and movies such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia. The entrepreneur also opened the amusement park Disneyland in 1955.
Disney had a lot of successful movies behind him. But what he didn’t have was experience in making live-action films. So when he approached Travers about adapting her books back in 1938 she turned him down.
Travers was reluctant to agree to selling the rights to her books because she did not believe Disney would be able to successfully capture the magic of her character on the screen. Nevertheless, he persisted and refused to give up. And finally after more than 20 years, Travers agreed.
However, Travers demanded that she would be allowed to approve of the script. And even then, she detested the animation and songs that featured in the film. Travers also disliked the way in which her character had been softened.
In the end, Travers was so unhappy with the final product that she reportedly demanded that no American was to participate in any future adaptations. And her fraught relationship with Disney has been well-documented. In fact, the biography Mary Poppins She Wrote by Valerie Lawson chronicles the tensions between the pair.
The biography has actually led to two documentaries focusing on Travers – The Real Mary Poppins and The Shadow of Mary Poppins. And Travers and Disney’s clashes were also depicted in Saving Mr Banks, about the making of Mary Poppins. This 2013 movie starred Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in the two central roles.
Although Travers was not a fan of the adaptation of Mary Poppins itself, that didn’t stop it from becoming a major success. Indeed, the movie was praised by critics and a hit at the box office. It also earned five Academy Awards.
Mary Poppins starred Julie Andrews as the fictional nanny who comes to live with the Banks family in Edwardian London. The family are struggling and Mary employs her unusual methods to take care of the children. But in reality, it’s not just the children, Michael and Jane, that she is there to look after.
The beloved movie also starred Dick Van Dyke as chimney sweep Bert. And it may come as a surprise to learn that it marked Andrews’ first ever film. However, what isn’t a surprise is that Mary Poppins turned her into a household name – and she even received the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Andrews entered the world on October 1, 1935, in Surrey, England. Although she didn’t come from money, her stepfather launched her on the path to stardom by funding an education at an arts school and sessions with a singing teacher. He then introduced her to Val Parnell, who worked in theatre productions and helped Andrews to land roles.
In fact, Andrews was still a teenager when she started having success on the stage. And she made her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend just one day before turning 19. Before long, Andrews was starring in hit shows such as My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle and Camelot as Queen Guinevere.
But it was Andrews’ turn as Mary Poppins that took her to new heights. She famously went on to appear as Maria von Trapp in 1965’s The Sound of Music and as the lead in 1982’s Victor/Victoria, both of which earned her Oscar nominations. In addition, Andrews was made a dame in 2000 for her contribution to the performing arts.
More recently, Andrews has starred in The Princess Diaries movies. But Mary Poppins is undoubtedly one of her most iconic roles to date. The film has remained popular more than 50 years since its release – so much so that Disney decided the story wasn’t over.
Although Walt Disney himself hoped to create a sequel to Mary Poppins right after the original, Travers would not agree. It wasn’t until years following Disney’s death in 1966 that Travers was approached once again, this time by Jeffrey Katzenberg. But the author again rejected the notion of allowing the studio to adapt further stories she had written.
At this stage, in the 1980s, Travers wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea of a sequel. But she wanted so much control over the proposed project that Disney decided it was too difficult. However, after the author died in 1996 the studio developed a good relationship with her estate and they eventually approved of Saving Mr. Banks.
By depicting Travers as being delighted with the movie version of Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks didn’t show what had really happened. It did, however, pave the way for a sequel. And in 2015 Travers’ estate agreed to the project that would later become Mary Poppins Returns.
Producers John DeLuca and Marc Platt worked with director Rob Marshall on developing the next installment of the Mary Poppins saga. The team had recently finished working on a movie adaptation of the hit musical Into The Woods. So they had a clear idea of who they wanted to play everyone’s favorite nanny – Emily Blunt.
“If I hadn’t just worked with Emily on Into the Woods, there would have been an enormous search,” Marshall told The Hollywood Reporter in December 2018. “But there was no choice. I knew what this character needed and Emily checked off every single box.”
Marshall added that Blunt is also “just incredibly British,” which he believed made her even more perfectly suited for the role. So Blunt was cast in the leading role in 2016 with Lin-Manuel Miranda starring opposite her. Other actors, including Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Julie Walters and Ben Whishaw, additionally joined the project.
And while the part of Mary Poppins is an iconic one to be offered, Blunt admitted that she was nervous at first to agree to it. “It’s such a nostalgic film for so many people,” she told The Hollywood Reporter, adding that she was nervous of ruining something so popular. “So when Rob Marshall called to offer me the role, my first reaction was pretty much abject terror.”
Blunt has confessed that being offered the part by Marshall over the phone was like being proposed marriage. And he said, “I knew that, of course, we all had trepidations and fear about how you follow that brilliant first film, but I know how fearless she is and I knew she would say yes.” Once they reached the end of their conversation, Blunt had agreed.
While filling Andrews’ shoes was no mean feat, Blunt tried not to overthink it and instead got on with her work. “My friends were like, ‘Oh you’ve got balls of steel.’ The only way I could survive it was approach her as I would any other character,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Filming for Mary Poppins Returns took place in England in 2017. New songs were written for the movie and, like the original, it included a combination of live-action and animation. And Marshall was careful to avoid using too much CGI in order to recapture the same magic as the 1964 film.
While there was a 54-year gap between the movies, Mary Poppins Returns was set 25 years following its predecessor. It follows Michael and Jane Banks as grownups, with Michael now a father to three children of his own. And after the family experiences a personal hardship, their former nanny Mary Poppins shows up.
The movie was released in December 2018 and has now earned more than $319 million at the box office. It has largely received positive reviews from critics, with Blunt’s performance especially being applauded. Mary Poppins Returns also received four nominations apiece at the Oscars and the Golden Globe Awards.
Playing up to the nostalgic aspect of the film, there were some special guests that featured. Karen Dotrice, who played Jane Banks in the original movie, appeared in a cameo role as a woman asking for directions. And the star – who has since quit acting – said it was “an honor” to be included.
Dotrice added that she “couldn’t stop crying” during filming. “It was the friendliest, most lovely and welcoming set you could be on,” she told E! “At the time I was just wishing them so much luck, they didn’t need it.”
Van Dyke additionally featured in the sequel as Mr. Dawes Jr. – and his appearance included an unforgettable desk dance. The actor, who had portrayed Mr. Dawes Snr. as well as Bert in the original, had a touching reaction when he heard that another movie was in development. To Marshall’s surprise, he asked, “Can I be in it?”
But one person you won’t see in the movie is Andrews herself. That’s not because Marshall didn’t attempt to make it happen, however. You see, the director approached the iconic actress and asked her if she would want to make an appearance. And she shot him down right away.
“She immediately said no,” Marshall told Variety at the Mary Poppins Returns premiere. But Andrews had a very good reason for keeping her distance from the project. According to Marshall, she didn’t want to steal the limelight from her successor, because it was Blunt’s turn to take on the role.
Marshall explained, “She said, ‘This is Emily’s show and I want her to run with this. She should run with this. This is hers. I don’t want to be on top of that.’” And Blunt told the publication that Andrews “was very hands-off with the whole thing.”
Blunt continued, “There was discussion about, you know, that maybe she would come and do a bit in the movie and she was so generous actually. She said to Rob, ‘Do you know what this is? This is Emily’s version of her and I don’t want it to be that she’s playing Mary Poppins the whole way through but then I come in and there’s like, ‘Oh, but there’s the real Mary Poppins,’ you know?’”
Andrews revealed back in 2017 that she thought Blunt was the “perfect pick” to take on the role of Mary Poppins. And it seems that the 35-year-old’s stint as the magical nanny isn’t over yet. Marshall has confirmed that there is already a discussion underway about a potential third movie starring Blunt.
After all, there are still several of Travers’ stories about Mary Poppins to work with. And clearly, Blunt can rest assured knowing that she has Andrews’ total approval. In December 2018 Marshall revealed that the 83-year-old had watched the movie and sent him an email containing her thoughts.
Marshall explained that Andrews had told him she was a huge fan of the sequel. “She’s seen it, she said ‘I loved it’ in huge capital letters,” he said to Press Association. “The email that she sent was literally, I can’t tell you how long and about everything.”
But in particular, Andrews shared her delight at watching Blunt’s performance. “She said Emily was wonderful, she loved her voice, she loved every single person in the cast, she was just over the moon about the whole thing,” Marshall added. “I was relieved and thrilled.”