“Mary Poppins Returns” Brings Magic Back With Classic Animation
Mary Poppins is back! I was able to see Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns earlier this week. And I can promise that it delivers all of the heart warming “feels” and charming songs that would make the original proud. What’s wonderful is that the film stays true to it’s predecessor by incorporating one of my favorite aspects, the classic animation!
The adventures of Mary Poppins continue with a new generation of Banks children. The film pays tribute to one of the 1964 film’s most memorable sequences in a colorful marriage of live action and animation. It takes viewers to the “simply sensational standing-ovational Royal Doulton Music Hall” for a breathtaking musical number. Harking back to Mary Poppins’ “Jolly Holiday,” which saw Mary Poppins, chimney sweep Bert and her young charges leap into a chalk illustration drawn upon the sidewalks of London, in Mary Poppins Returns the beloved nanny leads the way to another unlikely world, one that exists within an exquisitely painted Royal Doulton china bowl found inside the house on Cherry Tree Lane. While new technology has enabled motion picture animation to advance markedly over the last 54 years, a team comprised of both seasoned and emerging animators came together to create this stunning two-dimensional world.
Animation Sequence Supervisor Jim Capobianco, a veteran of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, shares that he was considered the go-to “2-D guy” during his time at Pixar, where he counts among his credits the original story for Ratatouille, as well as two-dimensional projects that include the short Your Friend the Rat (from the home entertainment release of Ratatouille) and the credits for WALL•E. Some movie matchmaking brought together Capobianco and Mary Poppins Returns director Rob Marshall. They both saw the opportunity for an approach that would use traditional, hand-drawn animation. This traditional format would deliver something that retained the nostalgia of the 1964 film. But they also wanted it to feel fresh and different from what had been done before.
“I think 2-D animation has a magical quality to it. It’s so different from the rest of the movie in the sense that you’re losing a dimension,” Capobianco says. The animation team drew upon the research skills that Pixar and Disney animators are known for. They did this to create a visual language to convey to audiences that they have journeyed to another world. The team studied Royal Doulton china, 1930s-era English music halls and even penguins. They did this while designing an animated world in which Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the young Banks children could move within seamlessly.
The Animation Team
The animation team consisted of both veteran animators who had worked on classics such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King—several of whom came out of retirement for the chance to be part of a brand-new movie featuring Mary Poppins—as well as younger artists who share Capobianco’s commitment to keeping the world of 2-D animation alive. The process began just as it did in 1964, on paper. It then continued for Capobianco in a fashion that transported him to an earlier time, as well.
“In the initial stages of developing the animation, I would bring the storyboards down to Disney and I would meet Rob there and pitch the sequence in the Hyperion Bungalow,” Capobianco recalls. It definitely helped being surrounded by Disney history. “We would pin up the drawings and I would go through the sequence in the room to everybody, live,” he continues. Director Marshall, screenwriter David Magee and composer Marc Shaiman set up shop in the bungalow. Of course they had a piano on hand, as well. These review sessions would lead to spontaneous collaboration as the artwork inspired rewrites to the music and the script. “It felt very much as close as we could possibly get to the Sherman brothers working with Walt and Don DaGradi and that whole team. In a way, we went back to the way the original was made, in that sense,” Capobianco shares.
Modern innovations intended to streamline the animation process created unexpected hurdles for the animators. They had to discover new ways to integrate their “analog” style of animation into a digital world. “We had to work out new pipelines,” says Capobianco. He compared the challenge to using a combustion engine in a world largely populated with electric cars. However, the animators were able to use digital technology to their advantage. They used it to shift characters within a frame, or duplicate parts of the animation when necessary. “There are a lot of characters and there’s a lot going on, and today’s technology does allow us to fill [the animation] out a little more,” Capobianco explains.
For the animators, it was both thrilling and a little daunting to bring classic animation to a modern motion picture. “I think everybody was excited to be part of making another film that could stand with the original film,” says Capobianco. He believes that their trepidation fueled the quality of the animation they created for the new film. That same quality honors the legacy of the original film and creates movie magic. It will endure long after the wind changes.
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