There is no question – the original Mary Poppins film is a gem. Mary Poppins received 13 nominations at the 37th Academy Awards, and Julie Andrews received the Oscar for Best Actress in her first-ever feature film. Likewise, Mary Poppins holds a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and is ranked #6 on the American Film Institute’s list of Greatest Movie Musicals. Songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, and “Feed the Birds” have filled homes and warmed hearts for centuries. So how do you create a sequel to Mary Poppins that rivals the original, and how do you even begin to create music for a second Mary Poppins film?
The answer finally came over 50 years later when Mary Poppins Returns was released in 2018, and the film soars into Disney+ this week. While, for some, the plot of this sequel feels too contrived, the music of Mary Poppins Returns is absolutely gorgeous! In this post, I’ll split the soundtrack of Mary Poppins Returns into two sections and describe how both of these parts combine to create one of the greatest Disney albums of the past ten years!
Tracks 1-14: Lyrical
Ever heard of Marc Shaiman? I hope so! Having worked on A Few Good Men, Sleepless in Seattle, and the Broadway rendition of Hairspray, his experience puts him an Oscar away from achieving EGOT status (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards). Thus, it’s no surprise that Shaiman was picked to create the music for Mary Poppins Returns, and his work is what sets the film apart from other Disney remakes.
Shaiman co-wrote the lyrics to Mary Poppins Returns alongside Scott Wittman (also from Hairspray), and they both collaborated with Disney Legend Richard Sherman to ensure that the film carried the same amount of charm as the classic Poppins film. In looking at the songs, there are obvious parallels to the showtunes of the original film: “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is the 2018 version of “Step in Time”, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” fits right in with “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, and “Nowhere to Go But Up” quotes straight from “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “A Spoonful of Sugar”.
There is no question that the new tracks stick close to the original source material, but this gives the more unique songs even greater prominence. “A Cover is Not the Book” highlights the instant chemistry between Emily Blunt (Mary) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Jack), and Miranda is even able to bring his Hamilton experience to center stage with a witty rap section. And while I am probably biased on the subject, “The Place Where Lost Things Go” definitely should have won an Academy Award in 2018 – it gets me so emotional every time!
The supporting cast also deserves a mention for keeping the musical bar high. Ben Whishaw captures the gripping emotions of a grieving father in “A Conversation”, which has quickly become one of my favorite songs on the album. Likewise, the musical style of “Turning Turtle” is unlike any other Poppins track, giving Meryl Streep her moment to shine.
Shaiman. Wittman. Sherman. Blunt. Miranda. Whishaw. Streep. Lansbury. The Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack cleverly puts all of these pieces together, creating a selection of show-stopping musical numbers that viewers will be singing for weeks.
Top Tracks (Lyrical): “A Conversation”, “The Place Where Lost Things Go”, “The Cover is Not the Book”
Tracks 15-27: Instrumental
Along with the lyrical earworms of the first 14 tracks, the soundtrack also includes a great score by Marc Shaiman. Like his work on the album’s first half, his score for Mary Poppins Returns is “practically perfect”, paying homage to the iconic songs of the original Poppins film and highlighting the new songs of the sequel.
Both “The Overture” and “Theme from Mary Poppins Returns” create a great medley of the film’s music, with each lyrical tune getting its own 30-second instrumental spotlight. These tributes are spread throughout the album – “Magic Papers”, for example, includes some of the musical touches from “A Conversation”. Similarly, many tracks perfectly highlight the music from the 1964 Poppins film. “Banks in the Bank” features short remnants of both “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank” and “The Perfect Nanny”, but these are surprisingly presented in a minor key. And those are just a few examples of the musical connections – there are plenty more!
All in all, the music of Mary Poppins Returns simply would not be so successful without Shaiman’s score. Each of the tracks helps to keep viewers humming the Poppins tunes long after the film is over, and every part of the score leaves them feeling giddy and nostalgic. Someone get Marc Shaiman an Oscar!
Top Tracks (Instrumental): “Theme from Mary Poppins Returns”, “Mary Poppins Arrives”, “Goodbye Old Friend”
Mary Poppins Returns is now streaming on Disney Plus.
Corban has been a lifelong fan of The Walt Disney Company. Disney music is often the soundtrack of his life, and he loves listening to a new film score. In between reruns of The Mandalorian, you can often find him planning his next trip to the Disney Parks or rewatching classic Disney TV shows.