Ardent admirers of film musicals know that putting together a great musical is no easy accomplishment, and they will soon see Rob Marshall has done it in spades with Mary Poppins Returns. The film is filled with joy, magic, music, and Emily Blunt is utterly charming as the immortal nanny who comes to teach us all a good lesson. The film just scored four Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture!
Producer Marc Platt sat down with us to talk about the delightful sequel and how they created a brand new and original musical while giving proper nods to the first.
Platt has worked on projects far too many to name, but let’s just name a few anyway: Jesus Christ Superstar Live!, La La Land, Bridge of Spies, The Girl On The Train and Wanted. He’s no stranger to working with Rob Marshall having previously collaborated on Into The Woods and Nine.
Where did this start for you?
Rob, John and I have worked together a lot. We’d finished Into The Woods and we always talked about the possibility and it was really just a possibility. Then the Disney folks were interested. Given my relationship there, everyone was talking around the idea of it. It was really when, as a group we felt that we delved into the books and saw there was a lot to draw up and still make our own. That gave us the confidence that it was something we could do.
We were little kids when the film came out and have different memories. Rob in Pittsburgh, John in New Jersey, and myself in Baltimore. I can remember my mom and dad taking me. I lived in the suburbs and they took me downtown where the big movie theater was. You’d get dressed up to go to movies. It was a big part of our lives so we were excited at the possibility to create our own version, but at the same time, we were respectful and cautious about how we moved forward.
How do you find that balance to pay homage and make sure that respect is paid, while at the same time using creative license to make it new and dazzlingly original?
Some of it is intuition. I felt that beginning with Rob and really with everyone. We had enough guardians of the original. I think the key with that kind of storytelling is to make sure your characters are living and breathing on their own and have no need to rely on what’s gone in the past. What’s gone from the past then becomes a double enjoyment and double satisfaction and a double depth of meaning if you have that knowledge. One wants to work on its own, and laced underneath are these easter eggs of nods, just enough of nods to the original. I think it just informed every decision that was made about how the music sounded and felt. It’s its own beautiful music but it feels like you’re almost instantly in a world that feels familiar.
The design of the film is so different and in many ways more realistic, the real part of the world. You still feel, yet, that you’re in a world that is somewhat familiar to you and is different.
That’s the great key to the success of the film that it’s imaginative and innovative and fresh on its own. It does provoke a nostalgia in the best sense of the word that we all carry with us.
With the musical formula, this checks all the boxes with songs like Trip The Light Fantastic, Nowhere to Go But Up. What went into some of the choices? Turning Turtle which is kooky but super catchy. Trip The Light Fantastic which is a song we’ll be singing for years to come.
That’s the genius of going with that character Topsy. Meryl has worked with us before and she loves a good musical. It’s about drawing upon the character from the books that we can make our own. A lot of that number is the cleverness of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman. She has some kind of European-ish accent. The music provokes that feel a little bit. At the same time, there’s a wordplay in that. There’s the upside down of the lyrics themselves. That’s their invention that comes alive with that music and those lyrics that really gets married into that character. Then you introduce Meryl into it and you get the costuming of Sandy Powell. You have this wild character that is invented and she’s as eccentric like Mary. She’s competitive with Mary and like everyone else in the world, she takes and learns a lesson from Mary to see the world in a different way, upside down and is ultimately very tender towards the children.
Because of your musical background, there was a prep process. How much did that help?
It’s the only way to do a musical film. It does a lot of things. It puts the movie and the music in your bones. It’s important in how you can accomplish shooting a number like Light Fantastic because it’s so well rehearsed.
A lot of us come from the theater so there’s this familial bonding that you go through putting on a play so this is a very similar experience and what it allows for and is conducive to is the formation of literally a family of actors and craftsmen and craftswomen working together and rehearsing together. By the time the cameras roll, you’re wearing the character, you’re wearing the story. Everyone from the crew to the actors is doing that and it’s so special.
It’s a very classic and traditional musical in that regard where the songs further the story and the characters.
What was the story process to lace it all together so seamlessly?
It began with Rob, John, and David and then Rob, John, David, Marc, and Scott. I’ll come in every so often with a fresh set of eyes and take what’s there and give my thoughts. Things will get rearranged and we will do it again. It’s an intensely creative experience, that collaboration. We do not believe in writing until everything has really been worked out so there’s a lot of outlining and beating out story points. This is where we think a song is and what we think a song is. Only when everyone has signed off on that does everyone go into their own rooms and David will write the screenplay, Marc and Scott write music and lyrics, then we bring the design to Rob. It’s a wonderfully creative experience.
Do you have a favorite musical moment? I know it’s a mean question to spring on you, but is there one that sticks out for you?
It’s so moving and so profound the way that Mary finds that analogy of the place where lost things go to explain loss is so clever and yet so beautiful, true, simple and profound. It walks you through grief in a way that is unique and childlike but very sophisticated. It’s kind of genius, it’s a brilliant song.
Only you guys could have pulled it off.
Well, that’s to Emily Blunt.
Well, Wicked. It’s coming.
It’s in the process, but it’s going to take some time. We are early in the development process of the script.
Mary Poppins Returns is released on December 19