I didn’t attend the premier of Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins” back in the early sixties. Back then, animation artists were not invited to posh Hollywood affairs. It may seem odd, but none of us felt slighted in any way. That’s because there was never any expectation of an invitation. We had the pleasure of being a part of a Disney masterpiece and that was reward enough. However, there was an unexpected bonus that came with being members of the “Mary Poppins” team. I had the opportunity to meet members of the cast, and that included, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Of course, the icing on the cake was the opportunity to work with our brilliant composers, Robert and Richard Sherman.
What a difference a few years can make. When “Mary Poppins Returns” premiered a couple weeks ago, Adrienne and I joined my pal, Richard M. Sherman on the red carpet at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. Even though we had already seen the Disney motion picture, we waited in eager anticipation. The atmosphere inside the theater was electric as the seats were slowly filled. Suddenly, the entrance of 93 year old, Dick Van Dyke brought the audience to its feet with a standing ovation. We already knew the movie was good. Would it hold up as well on this second viewing, we wondered? I’m pleased to say the delightful Disney musical exceeded our expectations. A week earlier, I had spoken with director, Rob Marshall. “I absolutely love your movie,” I told the smiling director. “You truly honored the film we made fifty four years ago. Now, on the evening of the premier and after party I made my way toward Mr. Marshall with a smile on my face. “Rob, it just keeps getting better and better.”
Hardly a movie critic, I know a great film when I see one. “Mary Poppins Returns” is the sequel I’ve anticipated for nearly fifty four years. And, while some have nit picked casting choices or preferred a Sherman Brothers score, this is a motion picture musical that proudly stands on its own next to the previous Disney classic. How do I know this, you ask? I was on Stage A with Robert and Richard Sherman on the first day of the pre-records. I attended dance rehearsals with choreographers, Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood, and was present on every sound stage on the Disney Studio lot for filming. Finally, I worked as part of the animation team for nearly a year creating a marvelous cartoon sequence where every composited drawing was done by hand.
It’s been a while since a Disney film has captured the magic, whimsy and wonder of “Mary Poppins Returns.” There’s a long standing rule (in my opinion, anyway) that all movie musicals have to live by. The movie has to fly. The film has to soar. This doesn’t happen by accident. Right choices have to be made, and boy, did Disney make the right choices this time around. The casting of Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda was inspired, and trusting Rob Marshall was smart. Who would dare follow Robert and Richard Sherman’s marvelous score? Get ready to listen to what composer, Marc Shaiman has done with a soundtrack that connects to the original while managing to maintain its own sense of magic and wonder. I’ll not say anything more, because this is a movie you simply have to experience for yourself. “Mary Poppins Returns” is a marvelous trip back to a happier time, and proof that Disney magic is still very much alive. Can you imagine that?