Oscars 2019: Walt Disney Studios hoping to make magic with ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ ‘Black Panther’

Last year, Walt Disney Studios reaped a pair of Oscar bids for the the smash hit live-action version of one of its most lauded cartoons, the 1991 Best Picture nominee “Beauty and the Beast.” This year, it has both the long-awaited sequel to “Mary Poppins” and the most successful entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther.”

In “Mary Poppins Returns,” Emily Blunt takes on the role that won Julie Andrews an Oscar more than half a century ago. In this follow-up, Poppins’ original charges, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer), are now grown up. Michael, his three children and their housekeeper, Ellen (Julie Walters), live in the house on Cherry Tree Lane. Dick Van Dyke, who was both chimney sweep Bert and bank president Mr. Dawes Sr. in the original film, returns to play Dawes, Jr. in this version with Oscar winner Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) in the new role of banker William Weatherall Wilkins. Three-time Oscar champ Meryl Streep is Poppins’ crazy cousin Topsy while five-time Tony winner Angela Lansbury is the Balloon Lady.

Director Rob Marshall, who helmed the 2002 Best Picture winner “Chicago,” worked with Blunt and Streep on “Into the Woods.” Tony Awards champs Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”) have composed new songs. And Oscar nominee David Magee (“Life of Pi”) has taken some of the seven later books by Poppins creator P.L. Travers to fashion a story set a quarter-century later than the first film.

Marshall has assembled an all-star team below the line as well, with Oscar winners in all the key positions: cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Memoirs of a Geisha”); costume designer Sandy Powell (“The Young Victoria,” “The Aviator,” “Shakespeare in Love”); hair and make-up designer Peter Swords King (“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”); production designer John Myhre (“Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Chicago”); and sound mixer Simon Hayes (“Les Misérables”).

“Mary Poppins” was the top-grossing film of 1964 and reaped a lucky 13 Oscar bids, winning five. Besides that Best Actress trophy for film newcomer Andrews, it took home film editing, score, song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and visual effects. The big winner that night was the screen version of the 1956 Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” that had launched Andrews. After being passed over for the film, she wreaked her revenge when Audrey Hepburn, in the role of Eliza Doolittle, was snubbed by the academy.

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“Black Panther,” which is one of the top box office draws of this year, marks the first time a black superhero has lead a MCU movie.Acting nominations have been hard to come by for superhero movies. Heath Ledger is the only person to reap a nomination (and win) for his turn as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” But the celebrated cast of “Black Panther” should help the film be taken seriously with Oscar voters.

Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa, the newly minted king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Others in the cast include past Oscar winners Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong’o, nominees Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya, and newcomers Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira.

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Makeup designer Joel Harlow is a two-time Emmy winner and an Oscar winner for “Star Trek.” His use of scars, body art, and facial paintings are inspired by various African tribes and will make him a formidable contender. Daniel Sudick is an eight-time Oscar nominee in the Visual Effects category. with six of those bids for Marvel properties. And the epic battles could see Marvel return to the Sound Editing category for the first time since “Iron Man.”

More impressively, “Black Panther” looks like a great candidate for Oscar categories in which Marvel has never contented. Hannah Beachler would be an inspired choice for Production Design, thanks to the futuristic architecture that evokes epic comic book scale while channeling traditional African tribalism. Likewise for Ruth E. Carter in Costume Design. She was an Emmy nominee for “Roots” (2016), and an Academy Award nominee for “Amistad” and “Malcolm X.” Besides the obvious task of adapting Black Panther’s iconic suit, Carter created a vast array of dazzling outfits that span from regal, to military, to evening wear. And 12-time Grammy champ Kendrick Lamar wrote three original songs for the film. The powerful track “Pray for Me” is a viable Best Song player. Past Oscar nominee The Weeknd contributes vocals.

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