Lin-Manuel Miranda on working with Dick Van Dyke in 'Mary Poppins Returns'
How much do I love Disney's Mary Poppins? Well, if I told you that my fiancée and I once won the 'King and Queen' of a Disney-themed ball dressed as Bert and Mary, then you'd probably never want to meet me in person. But I adore everything about the 1964 critically-acclaimed classic, from the always-infectious soundtrack to Julie Andrews' practically-perfect-in-every-way portrayal of the magical nanny.
So when it was announced that Disney was releasing a sequel to the much-loved fantasy movie, no matter how excited I was at the prospect of another Mary Poppins movie, I couldn't but feel a sense of apprehension and dread that something so perfect could be tarnished.
I needn't have worried.
Mary Poppins Returns is set 25 years after the original and tells the story of the now-grown-up Banks children struggling to make ends meet following a loss in the family. This loss has not only caused Jane and Michael Banks to lose their sense of fun, but forced Michael's three children into responsibility and duties beyond their years. Simply put, the Banks have lost their magic, and they need somebody to bring it back.
Enter Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins. Julie Andrews had turned down any possibility of a cameo, stating that she wants this to be Blunt's "show" - and it certainly was! Blunt's grace, poise, and talent radiate through, in a performance that is respectful to the original, but also entirely unique to her.
Alongside Emily is the beloved Lin-Manuel Miranda, a man whose name you may not know, but whose work you certainly will. Miranda wrote and starred in the hit stage musical Hamilton, and also co-wrote the incredible soundtrack to Disney's Moana. He is an Emmy winner, a Grammy winner, and a Tony winner - meaning he's just an Oscar away from the legendary "EGOT" status.
And as chance may have it, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Miranda to ask him all things Mary Poppins Returns.
Miranda stars as Jack, a 1930s London lamplighter who both literally and metaphorically brings light into the lives of everybody he meets. Explaining his character's backstory, Miranda said, "he was an apprentice to Bert - I like to think he's somewhere in 'Step In Time' in that first movie, but he's like a really little kid chimney sweep."
"[Jack] knows that Mary is magic, and he knows that if she shows up, incredible things are gonna happen."
One thing I was perhaps the most concerned about is whether or not the songs in this new movie could live up to the Sherman brothers' incredible Oscar-winning soundtrack to the original. Songs like 'Feed the Birds' and 'A Spoonful of Sugar' bring back so many fond memories for so many people, and this movie had to replicate that in order to be deemed a success.
Fortunately, since watching the movie, I can honestly say that I have been binging the soundtrack on Spotify. The movie features three or four standout songs that will probably go down in Disney history - such as 'Trip a Little Light Fantastic' and 'A Cover Is Not the Book' - and Lin and I briefly talked about the movie's opening number, '(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky':
"I love that first song so much, because it's such a quiet tempo. I think we race through our lives so quickly, we scroll through our social media feeds, and, it requires Jack slowing us down, and being like, 'Here's a new Mary Poppins movie, you're gonna be very well taken care of.'
"I think it resets our pulse rate so that we're ready to receive the adventure."
One star who does make a cameo in this movie is Dick Van Dyke, who played the iconic Bert in the first movie, as well as the cantankerous bank owner, Mr. Dawes. In Mary Poppins Returns, Van Dyke plays Mr. Dawes Jr. (but that's all I'll say about that, as I don't want to spoil his appearance!)
Speaking about working with a legend of the silver screen, Miranda said:
"It was... extraordinary. When [Van Dyke] was on set, I didn't ask him anything about Bert. I don't think I could wrap my mind around the fact that I was in a Mary Poppins movie with Dick Van Dyke. So I pretty much talked to him about everything except Mary Poppins.
"I think if you ask anyone on our crew, the Dick Van Dyke days - the DVDD - were the most special days on set because he embodies the themes of the film. He still has all that childlike wonder, and he's 93-years old!"
Miranda and I also talked about the incredible young actors behind the new generation of Banks children, the specific skills he had to learn in order to bring his lamplighter character to life, and what piece of art he would jump into if he could (with a very unexpected answer), but what I gained most from my brief time with him was how genuine and down-to-earth he was.
Miranda is a humble star who does not take his fame for granted, and despite the fact he's not a household name yet, it is only a matter of time before Miranda is recognized by all as a true one-of-a-kind talent, and follows Van Dyke's footsteps into "Disney Legend" status.
Mary Poppins Returns is the sequel we never knew we needed, and despite standing out as a modern movie for a new generation, it truly is a love letter to the original movie in its songs, characters, settings, and spirit.
It has been 54 years since Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke whisked us away on a 'jolly holiday', and now it is time for us all to once again embrace our inner child and 'trip a little light fantastic'!