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Rob Marshall’s Mary Poppins Returns is very much a love-letter to its 1964 predecessor, weaving a wonderful new story with the wonderful familiar world and characters. There are many fun and smart connections made between the two features, both stylistically and narratively, and even though they are made decades apart they still feel of a piece. Obviously 99% of that is extremely purposeful and intentional, but the sequel also has a fantastic accidental link to the first movie as well – specifically through a musical sequence that both films attempted, but ultimately decided not to use.
Last week I had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Rob Marshall to discuss his work on Mary Poppins Returns for the film’s home video press day, and during the interview talked about one song that was developed for the feature but not used: “The Anthropomorphic Zoo.” As the director explained, it was initially going to be a part of the extended journey taken by Mary (Emily Blunt), Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson), but was cut back when the sequence became too long:
There is a song that we had originally called "The Anthropomorphic Zoo," which was part of the animation sequence, but the animation sequence was way too long… It's about a zoo where people are in the cages, and the animals are walking around with Victorian garb on and pointing at the people in the cages. And it's very funny, and it comes from the books. Well, we tried it, we wrote the song, and it's there on the DVD to see with little bits some wonderful storyboarding and so forth, but we decided not to do it.
Obviously this kind of thing happens all the time, as every movie in history has at least one potentially great cut sequence that just didn’t work as part of the finished product. What makes this case special, however, is that apparently an almost identical decision was made in the making of the original Mary Poppins.
As Rob Marshall explained, the inspiration behind “The Anthropomorphic Zoo” came directly from the beloved book series by P.L. Travers on which Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns are both based, and fate would have it that it wasn’t the first time that the sequence was considered for live-action adaptation. After deciding not to include the number, the filmmaker made a surprising discovery, learning that the original basically made the exact same call back in the early 1960s:
After we decide not to do it I went to the archives here at Disney, and I saw that they had tried to do the same thing in the '64 version. There was a song called "The Chimpanzoo" that the Sherman brothers wrote, and they didn't use it either. So that was the craziest thing ever. Isn't that crazy?
It’s a fantastic little coincidence – but what makes it a little extra fun is that it’s not exactly a “lost” Mary Poppins song anymore. Even though the production didn’t actually fully develop the sequence, there will be a special feature on the Digital, Blu-ray and DVD copies of Mary Poppins Returns that will give audiences a chance to listen to the track and imagine what could have been.
You can watch my full interview with Rob Marshall, including his great bit of trivia about “The Anthropomorphic Zoo” by clicking play on the video below.
Following its massively successful box office run over the past few months, Mary Poppins Returns is heading to home video very soon. The hit musical will be available for digital download starting on March 12th, and those of you who collect physical copies will be able to find 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD editions in stores on March 19th.