The original Mary Poppins hit theaters in the summer of 1964, a surprisingly joyful romp full of lively show tunes. Though rock and roll had crossed into the mainstream in the late 1950s and the Beatles were breaking big on both sides of the pond, Disney was not one to grab onto the latest trend. The music and lyrics of the songs from Mary Poppins are delightfully family-friendly, but the songs are as square as they come. But fast-forward 50-odd years to the upcoming sequel and times have changed. Word is Lin-Manuel Miranda raps in Mary Poppins Returns, making it a thoroughly modern movie... at least musically.
But to be fair, it's not like rap only arrived on American shores a few years ago as part of some musical invasion like the Beatles sound did in the 1960s. Rap, one of the most American musical forms along with jazz, has been around since the late 1970s, making it nearly as old as the original Mary Poppins film itself.
Moreover, while Disney was definitely looking for a song-and-dance Broadway star who could fill the softshoe moves of the original Dick Van Dyke role opposite of Poppins, picking Lin-Manuel Miranda was a clear move toward modernity. The man famous for mainstreaming rap on Broadway was always going to do the same for Mary Poppins Returns.
According to producer Marc Platt, this was always the plan, even though the film is set in the 1930s. Speaking to CinemaBlend, he said:
Wonderful song and dance man, wonderful actor, which is what he's doing in this film. And he inhabits the role of Jack and creates a wholly original character, playing this leerie. And he gets to do all the things that you want to see Lin do. He gets to be charismatic. He gets to bring light into the world. He sings. He dances. And, believe it or not, 1934 music hall style he even gets to do a little rap. It's quite extraordinary.
Even though Miranda does get to rap here and there, he didn't write any of the lyrics to any of the songs on the soundtrack. (There are quite a few too, 27 tracks all told.) That honor went to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the pair behind the Tony Award-winning Broadway adaptation of John Waters' Hairspray.
They had to create a musical palette that both appealed to modern sensibilities while not losing the original score sound developed by the original Disney composers, Richard and Robert Sherman, who took home the Oscar for Best Original Score as well as Best Original Song for "Chim Chim Cher-ee." Robert Sherman died a few years ago, but Richard is still with us and even composing for Disney. (He not only wrote two songs for this summer's Christopher Robin but also appeared in the mid-credits scene playing piano on the beach.)
Viewers hope the full soundtrack created by Shaiman and Wittman will be able to stand up to the original. Mary Poppins Returns arrives in theaters on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018.