Origins: Mary Poppins Returns

Full disclosure: I was all set to announce that this would be the last installment in the Origins series, because there are only so many ways to say today’s Hollywood mostly stinks. However, that was before I peeked at what’s lined up for next year. Put it this way: 2019 may reveal whole new levels of suckage. Maybe it won’t be so bad, though. At least the snark will be satisfying. So, yep, Origins is staying. 


Now let’s get down to business, which is…

Mary Poppins is back! And she looks really great. She’s been given a new turn by Emily Blunt, whose trademark patrician twinkle is just right for Mary Poppins. I also like that she doesn’t mimic Julie Andrews, but makes the part her own. Dame Julie was so sure of Blunt’s rightness for this role that she politely refused to do a cameo because she wanted Blunt to shine. Classy lady.

However, viewers will recognize other familiar faces, including one spry old gent doing an energetic slide on a desk. Here’s the trailer:

Yes, that’s Emily Blunt’s real singing voice. She apparently has lots of hidden talents.

First edition of Mary Poppins, 1934. (Pinterest)

Whether they watch the new film or not, no one will be able to forget the 1964 movie. It’s wonderfully timeless and fun, with everyone and everything coming together so well. And of course, there’s the sublime Dame Julie Andrews in her Oscar-winning title role.

How Mary Poppins was adapted for film is a story in itself. There were some changes from P.L. Travers’ original 1934 novel, although the book has plenty that movie fans will remember. Jane and Michael take their medicine, the nursery magically tidies itself, and they have tea on the ceiling, courtesy of Laughing Gas. Mary Poppins and Burt take the kids into a painting. The Bird Woman makes an appearance.

That’s pretty much where the similarities stop. In the books, Jane and Michael have a baby brother and sister, twins John and Barbara. Burt is a minor character. The biggest change, however, is in Mary Poppins. Andrews played Mary Poppins firm but sweet, but Mary Poppins of the novel was stern and fierce. Travers called her rude–she says, “Hey” now and then, and she isn’t above telling off rogue pigeons. There were some parts where Mary Poppins goes into storytelling mode, including one about a dancing cow.

P.L. Travers’s home at 50 Smith Street in the Chelsea district of London. In May of 2018, a blue plaque was placed at the site. Private residence. (Google Maps)

One chapter was left out of the movie for obvious reasons, as it depicted Mary Poppins taking the kids to a bakery, where the owner breaks off her graham cracker fingers and feeds them to the twins. Disney likely felt it was a little too weird, not to mention a nightmare for the special effects folks. Overall, the book has a darker, odder tone than Disney was probably comfortable with when it came to making a film that would appeal to the largest number of people.


Disney very much captured the essence of the book, and worked within its parameters, but not without resistance from Travers. Oh no, she had very definite ideas as to how she wanted her work to look on the screen, if she wanted it on the screen at all. Since Disney already owned the rights, the movie would have been made with or without her, but Disney wanted very much to include Travers, so as to make the film the best it could be.

Travers was very clear that there was to be no animation in the film, and the Banks house should look less grand. She was also pretty “meh” about the Sherman brothers’ music and thought the story was lightened up too much. Travers was so meticulous about accountability that she insisted every session be taped.

These tapes formed the basis for the 2013 feature, Saving Mr. Banks. Starring Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, it intersperses the development of Mary Poppins with scenes of Travers’s childhood as Helen Goff in Australia. It attempts to parallel her experiences with an alcoholic father, Travers (Colin Farrell) and a suicidal mother, Margaret (Ruth Wilson). There’s also Helen’s Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) who sweeps in to fix everything when Travers’s father is dying of alcoholism.


Travers comes to America radiating disapproval at Yankee vulgarity. Heaven forfend she arrive at her suite in the Beverly Hills Hotel to find it populated with Disney stuffed animals, including a giant plush Mickey. She promptly packs them in the closet, turns Mickey to face the corner, and sets out an army of pill bottles. When she finds pears in her fruit baskets she tosses them out the window. At least she can get a decent cup of tea, although I kept waiting for her to turn up her nose at American tea bags.

Everyone at Disney is as nice to Travers as possible, but working with the Sherman brothers, Robert and Richard (B.J. Norman and Jason Schwartzman)  and screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) is an ordeal. Travers’ demands change daily. Mr. Banks must not have a mustache. The screenplay is too dumbed-down and full of pesky camera directives. There must be no red anywhere in the movie.


It gets so contentious that Don secretly sketches Travers saying, “No, no, no!” She has to stay happy, though, or the project is kaput. Disney, who always seems to announce himself with an emphysematic cough, has to talk fast to keep her on board.

What finally brings a smile to Travers’s face is the song, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” She starts singing it and dancing around the room with Don, and from then on, pre-production starts really clicking along. However, it all comes to a crashing halt when Travers finds out there are going to be animated dancing penguins. She flies back to London in a high dudgeon, leaving Walt to decide what to do next. It’s no major head-scratcher, though, because we already know how it turns out.


Walt’s instincts about the project were, naturally, spot-on, and the original Mary Poppins film grossed $44 million. However, Travers disliked it so much that she put the kibosh on Disney adapting any of her other Mary Poppins books. That may have been why, in the movie and real life, she wasn’t invited to the premiere and had to wrangle a ticket for herself.

The film has been criticized because it makes Disney look good at Travers’s expense. She’s the one who has to be softened, the one who has to play ball, the one who has to find joy. However, from a character development standpoint, the cantankerous approach works, because it gives Travers’s character a journey to take.


While Saving Mr. Banks does have some inaccuracies, such as Travers dancing to “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” it succeeds as an entertaining film. The cast is terrific, and the rapport between Travers and Disney is contentious and sparky. It’s just fun to watch, especially when the familiar parts of Mary Poppins begin to fall into place.

Julie Andrews, Walt Disney, and P.L. Travers at the August 26, 1964 premiere of Mary Poppins. (Entertainment Weekly)

Given that Travers loathed Disney’s treatment of her novel, it’s interesting to wonder how she would view the newest iteration. If she were alive today and running true to form, she’d probably be giving the latest crop of Disney employees more stinkeyes. For the rest of us, though, Mary Poppins Returns promises a refreshing visit with a beloved character.

And there we have my final post for 2018. Time for vacay…woo hoo! In the meantime, I’ll still be reading and commenting around the blogosphere, plus I’ll be active on social media, of course. 🙂

Coming up in January:

yearafteryearbannerjezebelbannerbarbarastanwyckbannerRobots in Film 7Jean Simmons Banner 1

Here are the people to see if anyone’s interested in joining one or more of these:

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and thanks for reading, all–it’s been a great year! See you on January second with another “Stage To Screen” installment…

Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks are both available on DVD.

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