“Mary Poppins Returns” includes nine original songs by the writing team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. That’s an overwhelming amount by contemporary movie musical standards, but it’s actually underwhelming compared to the original 1964 film, which, Shaiman points out, contained almost twice that many. Still, a 21st century audience may only be able to handle so much music, the thinking goes. And how many songs can the Academy handle? Only two from any given film. Do the songs being submitted from this sequel are the movie’s cheeriest, “Trip a Little Light,” and its saddest, “The Place Where Lost Things Go” — “the yin and the yang of it,” Shaiman says.
You should see how many they actually put to paper for the project. “We probably wrote two songs pretty much for every slot, at least, before we you know settled on one,” Shaiman says. One of those slots was exceptional, though. He adds that Emily Blunt’s big ballad, “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” “is one that just stuck to the wall and never dripped away.”
For that pick, “we had to find a song that how Mary Poppins can sing to the kids about loss — they lost their mother — but put it into terms that a kid could understand,” Shaiman said. “And that makes it almost special for a kid, to make the memory of their mother into something magical.” They drew on some P.L. Travers stories that didn’t necessarily figure into the screenplay to arrive at the idea for the song. Wittman says Travers “had a very almost eastern spirituality, I would say, in most of the books that kind of haunts them in a way, and that feeling definitely worked for ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go.’”
“Trip a Little Light Fantastic” replaced another song Wittman and Shaiman had written with the very but slightly too predictable title of “Trip the Light Fantastic.” “It’s so strange that in the movie it’s (coincidentally) sung by a lot of guys riding bicycles,” says Shaiman, “because Scott and I were playing around with the title, and I was literally on a Citi Bike here in Manhattan, where you can put your little fob in, on our way to a meeting at Rob Marshall’s, and I was pedaling, ‘trip-a-little-light, trip-a-little-light’ just came out with the rhythm of my feet on the bicycle.”
Shaiman and Wittman began working on the songs three years ago, well before a script was in place — they were developed simultaneously — albeit with the knowledge that Blunt was their Poppins. They’re more than eager to admit their debt to the original movie’s tunesmiths: “When we did get the job,” says Wittman, “Rob did call and say, ‘Which Sherman brother do you want to be?’”
Adds Shaiman, “I honestly couldn’t conceive of living the rest of my life if we didn’t get this opportunity. I had told Rob that if I didn’t get the job, I was going to have to leave the planet Earth. I would have to go to the place where the lost things go.”