Just a Spoonful of Sugar:
The Birth of Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins was born through the imagination of writer P.L. Travers, who published a series of eight children’s books from 1934 to 1988. The books follow a magical British nanny, ‘Mary Poppins’ who is blown by the Eastern wind to No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane, the home of the Banks children. The first three books are self-contained stories, which cover Mary arriving and leaving the Banks home, while the following five books depict flashbacks, of previous events from her three visits, which had been unrecorded.
All eight books depict Mary and the children’s encounters with various characters which result in an adventure of some sort.
- Mary Poppins
- Mary Poppins Comes Back
- Mary Poppins Opens the Door
- Mary Poppins in the Park
- Mary Poppins from A to Z
- Mary Poppins in the Kitchen
- Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane
- Mary Poppins and the House Next Door
Over the last 90 years, the character and story of Mary Poppins has become so beloved that it has been adapted for the screen, stage and has come to be a cultural icon of perfection, which audiences continue to relate to today.
We Are Not a Codfish:
Disney’s Mary Poppins
Early after the release of the first book, Walt Disney attempted to purchase the filming rights, but it was not until 30 years later that he succeeded in convincing Travers to sell. Once Disney acquired the rights, the planning, casting and composing of the musical score took around two years.
The final film was comprised of a mix of adventures from the first four novels, as well as additional adventures written purely for the film and was portrayed using part animation, and part live-action. The film was widely loved by critics and audiences, and won several awards including ‘Best Actress’ at the Academy Awards and several Oscars. The film is often considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, and Walt Disney’s “crowning achievement”, being the only Disney film to be nominated for “Best Picture” at the Oscars in his lifetime. Since its release, the film has become such an internationally beloved piece, that it is now preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, for preservation in the United States.
In 2015 it was announced that Disney would be producing a sequel to the film, Mary Poppins Returns based on the remaining books in the series. Emily Blunt is set to star as the leading lady, with Lin-Manuel Miranda cast as a street lamplighter. The film will take place 20 years after the events of the original film and will also feature Meryl Streep and Colin Firth. Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke have also committed to appear in the film.
Travers was extremely vocal about her disdain for much of the production’s features. She disapproved of how cheery the character of Mary Poppins was, and felt that the music was not appropriate, and instead should have contained known pieces from the Edwardian era. Travers also strongly rejected the animated sequence of the film. As a result, she declined to allow Disney any further rights to her other Mary Poppins books. The turbulent relationship between Travers and Walt Disney is documented in a written biography, and two documentary films, as well as dramatized in the 2013 Disney film Saving Mr Banks.
Tuppence a Bag:
Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks is set in 1961 and centres around the development of Mary Poppins, with a focus on the relationship between P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), particularly in relation to the fortnightly meetings which took place, in an attempt to obtain the screen rights to Travers novels.
The film won several awards including a BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award, as well as earning several nominations.
It’s a Jolly Holiday:
Mary Poppins the Musical
Naturally, Mary Poppins has been adapted into a Broadway musical, based on both the 1964 Disney film and on the books. Although the bulk of the music was taken from the work written by the Sherman Brothers for the film, additional songs were written, along with a reworked script.
The theatrical production opened in December 2004 on the West End and won awards during its first season. Following this success, the show opened in Broadway soon after, where it received seven Tony nominations and ran for three years.
Fast Facts about Mary Poppins
- In 2014, rumours circulated that director Tim Burton would be involved in a remake of the film. The rumours turned out to be a hoax
- The character of Mary was loosely based on Travers Aunt Helen
- The 2012 Olympic games in London featured 30 actors dressed as Mary Poppins as part of the opening ceremony
- Walt employed the Sherman Brothers to write the music before he had even acquired the rights to the film
- The Sherman Brothers invented the work “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”
- Dick Van Dyke was first choice for Bert
- Travers disliked all the music except “Feed the Birds”
- Tom Hanks depiction of Walt in Saving Mr. Banks is the first depiction of Disney in a mainstream film
- Julie Andrews declined the role of Mary as she was three months pregnant when Disney approached her about it. Disney was so keen on casting her that he delayed production so that Andrews could have her baby first. When her baby was born, Travers called the hospital and spoke to Andrews for the first time
- The idea for “Spoonful of Sugar” came from one of the musicians, whose son was administered their polio vaccine by ingesting an injected sugar cube, as opposed to a needle vaccine
- David Tomlinson (Mr. Banks) provided the voice of Mary’s umbrella. Julie Andrews also lent her voice to the whistling Robin, and one of the Pearly singers during “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”
- Dick Van Dyke had a dialect coach to work on his cockney accent, but it is still regarded as one of the poorest accents in film history
- The voices of the three Cockney geese in “Jolly Holiday” were voiced by Marni Nixon, who voiced the singing parts for Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and also starred alongside Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music
- The Disney film changed the storyline of the books in several places
- Mary controls the wind rather than the wind controlling her
- the father interviews Mary, rather than the Mother
- there are only two Banks children in the film
- Mary is also depicted as less vain and more caring toward the children as opposed to the colder nanny of the books
- Bert is a composite of several characters from the books
- Walt Disney decided to try and acquire filming rights only after his daughters became fans of the books
- Dick Van Dye was initially turned down to play Mr. Dawes Sr. but was cast after he had the makeup department make him look old and formerly auditioned for the part
- The scenes for “Jolly Holiday” were the first scenes filmed so that the animation could be worked on right away
- The mechanical Robin is credited as being the first audio animatronic
- Walt did not invite Travers to the premiere of the film at Grauman’s Chinese theatre, as he planned on including her at the London premiere. When Travers heard about this she sent Walt a telegram informing him that she would be in L.A. at the time and wanted to attend
- The film was so successful that it was still playing in 1965 when The Sound of Music was released. In that same year, Mary Poppins became the highest grossing film, while The Sound of Music came in second
- The success of the film allowed Walt to purchase 27,5000 acres of swampland that he had his eye on in Florida. This land is now home to Walt Disney World
- The film’s soundtrack spent 14 weeks at number one, and outsold The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elvis
- A Walt Disney World attraction based on the film was developed but never built
- The snow globe from ‘Feed the Birds’ was lost for a long time until it was found with a janitor, who recovered it from the trash one day
- The film was the first to be released on Disney DVD and has never been taken out of print
- Mary Poppins is the first live action film to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry
- Dick van dyke had no musical experience before the film
- Glynis Johns only took the role after “Sister Suffragette” was written for her part, as she didn’t want to take a non-musical role