Mary Poppins Returns star Emily Blunt has admitted that she didn't know about P.L. Travers' original Mary Poppin novels before she signed on for Disney's movie sequel. Like so many people before her, however, Blunt did grow up watching (and loving) Julie Andrews as the practically perfect - and magical - nanny from Disney's 1964 musical, Mary Poppins. Blunt's love for the film was indeed a big part of what got her to sign on for the long-awaited followup to begin with.
Travers, on the other hand, was not a fan of Disney's movie (itself, adapted from the original Mary Poppins novel she published in 1934). It actually took Walt Disney nearly 25 years to convince Travers to sign off on the film in the first place, as has been chronicled in both a pair of documentaries and the live-action memoir, Saving Mr. Banks. While Travers softened her stance towards the movie in her later years, she nevertheless refrained from ever selling the film rights to her other seven Mary Poppins books after her experience working with Disney.
For the large part, the Mary Poppins movie has eclipsed its source material in popularity over the decades. In fact, Blunt admitted "I did see the film, I actually wasn’t aware that there were books", when we interviewed her during our visit to the Mary Poppins Returns set in London. Nonetheless, Blunt grew up watching Disney's film and told us about the lasting impact Andrews' version of the character left on her:
Well I think Mary Poppins as a character is so iconic, and I think the film, for me, and I think for most people, is one of those films that is sort of seared into people’s memory, an emblem of their nostalgia in many ways. So I do remember it very fondly and took such a great comfort in it as a child, that was something that struck me of that person coming in and so capable and so magical, and just sweeping it all up and making it right. I took a lot of comfort in that as a child, so I think we are trying to, obviously, continue that now too with our film. It’s very surreal to me being Mary Poppins.
Mary Poppins Returns' screen story - credited to writer David Magee (Life of Pi), director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and John DeLuca (Marshall's longtime second unit director) - is mostly original and draws from Disney's 1964 film more than any other sources. At the same time, the film does feature elements from Travers' novels that weren't in the first movie. That includes the characters Topsy Turvy (Mary's cousin) and the Balloon Woman (Mary's old friend), as played by Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury, respectively.
Indeed, as complicated (to put it mildly) as Travers' relationship was to Disney's first Mary Poppins movie, her source novels continue to have a significant impact on the film series... whether people know about them or not. For the same reason, Mary Poppins Returns could actually lead to a boost in sales for Travers' books, as well as an increase in the general public's awareness of their very existence. Such a turn of events would add yet another fascinating wrinkle to the practically perfect nanny's greater legacy on the big screen.
- Mary Poppins Returns (2018) release date: Dec 19, 2018