When you're talking about Hollywood songwriting history, Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman are as close to royalty as you get.
Just walking through any Disney park on the planet, you are surrounded almost continuously by their music, whether it's the omnipresent “It's A Small World” or the fiendishly infectious “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room” or the songs from the various films they contributed to like “I Wanna Be Like You” or “Trust In Me” from The Jungle Book. By far, though, their most lasting and memorable contributions to the Disney legacy came with their work on Mary Poppins.
“Feed The Birds.” “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” “A Spoonful Of Sugar.” “Jolly Holiday.” “I Love To Laugh.” “Stay Awake.” Even some of the lesser-known tracks like “Sister Suffragette” or “The Life I Lead” or “The Perfect Nanny” are just perfect. And as I wrote in my Film Nerd 2.0 piece on Mary Poppins, I think “Let's Go Fly A Kite” is a practically-perfect-in-every-way moment of film catharsis. Mary Poppins is a great musical not just because the songs are memorable or beautiful, but because each one is about character and theme, and the film is unthinkable without them. They are the very fabric of the movie.
I wrote a bit recently about my fondness for Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. Wait… that's not a fair description. It's not fondness; it's mania. Part of the reason it's such a non-stop issue is because I can't see the show anytime soon. I'm not planning to be in New York, and if I end up going for business, it would take a miracle for me to end up with tickets. But part of it is that I'm so blown away by how clear an act of love for the very idea of musical theater Hamilton really is. Lin-Manuel Miranda lives and breathes musical theater on a molecular level with the same appetite that, say, Jack White has for guitar or Quentin Tarantino has for film. They aren't just artists; they are encyclopedias with feet. They are super-nerds, and part of the act of creation is just to take the Lego set that is the form and figure out what new ways you can put the pieces together. Hamilton is a great musical; it is also a great commentary on musicals, a playful engagement with the way they typically work, the way they've worked in the past, the way they work on an audience.
Variety reports today that Miranda is in discussions with Disney about joining the Mary Poppins sequel that Rob Marshall will direct, and I am struck by two opposite reactions, both very strong.
First, I'm delighted, because if you're going to make a movie that even attempts to stand in the shoes of the original Mary Poppins, music is a big part of that, and if anyone is going to appreciate both the responsibility and the opportunity of picking up the threads left behind by the Shermans, it's going to be Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Second, I'm reeeeally disappointed. Can someone besides Rob Marshall direct this? Please?
The P.L. Travers books contain a wellspring of interesting ideas and stories that could be used as inspiration to build something wonderful. To be honest, the original film did something wonderful with the way it broke the Banks family in order to rebuild them, restoring the important connections that make them a family. The Travers books are more these whimsical adventures, with Mary leaving and returning to the Banks house several times. There were four Banks children in the books, not two, and they are certainly of their time. The film may have been said to infuriate or sadden Travers, as dramatized in Saving Mr. Banks, but there was a tone that Disney's film captured that was appropriate, and it still makes Mary Poppins feel distinct, no matter how often it's been imitated.
The news is that Miranda will both play a role in the film and also contribute to the soundtrack. He's not signed yet, though, and Hamilton remains a pretty major consideration. The show's got a lot of life in yet. No doubt deals are either being made or they're done already for London and Los Angeles productions, and the touring company for a show like this could run for a decade, easily. And who knows what else he's up to? I have a hard time believing a mind as playful and frantic as Miranda's is ever focused on just one thing at a time.
Oh, wait… I just remembered they're supposedly talking to Emily Blunt to play Mary.
Dying now, thanks. If this doesn't happen, I may be inconsolable. If it does happen, it's a potentially great thing, and I hope they give Miranda free reign when it comes to the soundtrack. Anything less seems like a half-measure.
UPDATED: So of course, The Hollywood Reporter's version of the story has a different take on things than Variety did. According to their piece, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman will be composing the original songs and the score, with David Magee set for the screenplay. So does that mean Miranda would join Shaiman and Wittman in writing songs and working on the score, or does Variety have that part of it wrong? Or are the talks that are happening right now a chance to sort all of that out?
It's an exciting proposition. Curious to see how this all shakes out.
Hamilton is on Broadway now.