The Eye-Popping”Mary Poppins Returns” Character Posters and The Evolution of Costume Design for Film

Posted on November 15, 2018

Disney Studios just released a bunch of character posters for the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns and you know how it goes, darlings. That means we have opinions. Fortunately for you, the posters are big, bold and eye-catching, which will make our ceaseless droning seem more fun somehow.

Seriously, though. These are absolutely gorgeous:


What strikes us about the costume design by the amazing Sandy Powell is not just how meticulous it is, but how many layers, textures and patterns there are in each design. That’s perhaps not such a surprise with fantastical characters like Mary and Meryl Streep’s Topsy Poppins, but it’s interesting how the film took the look of the 1964 original, added 20 years to it, and then ramped up all the design elements and colors to much more cartoonish levels. Check our old Mary Poppins Musical Monday post for a bunch of (tiny 2009-era) screencaps to see the difference in how Julie Andrews was dressed (whimsical for 1964 but largely low-key and common-sensical with far fewer prints) with how Emily is dressed, with all her colors and patterns and flair. Even the buttons on her coat are highly distinct.

Seemingly conservative or establishment characters like Julie Walters and Colin Firth are sporting an unusually high number of clashing or juxtaposed prints and textures too. Not one of the stripes on Firth’s costume is an actual straight line. Not one of the stripes on Walters’ costume is without a distinct print inside its borders. She has no less than four different polka dot patterns AND a rick-rack border. It’s not just that Lin Manuel Miranda’s jacket, vest, shirt and kerchief all have distinct textures and patterns, but that the lining of his coat has another one and his gloves have two distinct textures.

A big part of the reason for the change in costume design styles comes down to the differences in taste and the expectations of audiences in 2018 versus 1964, but there’s also a very practical and direct reason for it: High definition cinema. The audience has a much greater capacity to see every detail of the design, not just in the theater, but when they view the digital version at home, on their gigantic televisions. This is neither a good or a bad thing, as far as we’re concerned; just an interesting thing to note. But history tells us that, like silent films and black-and-white films, pre-digital films and their accompanying pre-digital aesthetics are going to eventually be seen as hopelessly archaic and outdated to modern audiences. The simplicity of the OG Mary Poppins costumes will eventually seem strangely under-designed to modern audiences. Ask the average 15-year-old how the original Star Wars looks versus how The Last Jedi looks.



[Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios]

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