The soon-to-be-released “Mary Poppins Returns” puts a fresh spin on the 1964 original movie, but the world premiere of the Disney sequel Thursday night in Los Angeles was all about the legends.
Take Dick Van Dyke. Outfitted with a custom cane bearing the parrot from Poppins’ umbrella, the 92-year-old arrived to screams, a swarm of photographers and dozens of onlookers stretching their necks to catch a glimpse of movie magic at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
He starred alongside Julie Andrews as Bert and Mr. Dawes Sr. more than five decades ago, a performance that earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
The new film, opening nationwide Dec. 19, follows the next generation of Banks children, who prompt Mary Poppins’ return to Cherry Tree Lane. Played by Emily Blunt, Poppins brings with her joy and imagination to help offset the family’s financial hardship that threatens foreclosure on their longtime home.
When Van Dyke first arrived on the 2018 set to play Mr. Dawes Jr., “his eyes just lit up. He was beaming,” production designer John Myre said on Thursday night’s red carpet.
On set, he said, a dancer initially stood in for Van Dyke to demonstrate his routine inside the London bank.
“We were all concerned,” Myre explained of the nonagenarian’s safety. The scene called for a big leap onto the desk of Colin Firth’s character, followed by a tap-dance break. Myre built a set of steps hidden behind the desk, “in case he had any trouble.”
But in a moment as animated as the man himself, Van Dyke said, “I won’t need that. Take it away,” and executed the moves flawlessly, according to Myre.
Director Rob Marshall was moved to tears and couldn’t call cut, said his partner, John DeLuca. “And Emily’s like, ‘Ah, he’s crying!’ Emily’s laughing. It was the most moving thing. Just to have that presence — everyone felt it. It was fearless,” DeLuca said.
“It didn’t hit me that he was a legend. But my mum said, ‘OK, so Joel, Dick Van Dyke is an A-lister,” child actor Joel Dawson told The Times. He plays the youngest of the Banks children, Georgie. "You have to be serious with him,” his mother noted, but he promised, “She’s not strict like that. She’s actually a really nice mum.”
The movie also features a cameo from another Hollywood great, Angela Lansbury. She acts and sings as the “Balloon Lady” in the film’s finale, the favorite song of lyricists Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.
“When we heard her singing our song, literally the top of my head screwed right off and flew into outer space,” Shaiman said on the red carpet. “I still cannot believe it when she comes on screen and sings a song that we wrote.”
Mid-interview, Wittman and Shaiman were interrupted by a surprise visit from Richard M. Sherman, who co-wrote the music and lyrics for the 1964 film. He and his brother Robert brought to life the classics “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Wittman and Shaiman gave Sherman all the songs and scripts during production, describing him as their “fairy godfather.” With their idol’s arms wrapped around their shoulders, the wide-eyed Wittman and Shaiman told reporters, “This is the man. He’s the rabbi. We’re just the congregation. We were trying to honor him the best that we could.”
Sherman assured them, “I was thrilled because it was right in keeping with what Bob [Robert B. Sherman] and I had started, like walking in the same direction.”
Karen Dotrice, who played Jane Banks in the 1964 film version, was also in attendance. Emily Mortimer plays a grown-up version of the character alongside Ben Whishaw as an adult Michael Banks.
Mortimer was on set when Dotrice returned to Cherry Tree Lane for the first time in 54 years, since she was a child.
“That was an amazing day. It felt like a stamp of approval in a way that she showed up and did this cameo in our movie,” Mortimer recalled. “She was really moved.”
As the countdown to the screening neared, a hurried Blunt rushed by. Asked how she was feeling that night, she exclaimed, “Nervous!”
It was the same for Sherman the night of the 1964 premiere.
“[It was] a great blur. I was very, very nervous,” he said. “Worried if people would even like my things. Like this ridiculous word, ‘Supercalifragilistic.’ We didn’t know what to expect, but it worked out. Here we are.”