This December, Julie Andrews makes one of her periodic returns to the cinema in a colorful studio sequel that features magical adventures, memorable musical choices, and a scene where a woman descends from the sky. I’m talking, of course, about Aquaman, in which Andrews voices the pivotal role of the Karathen, a tentacled creature who guards a watery MacGuffin that our hero must obtain if he wants to become master of his damp domain. Without getting into spoilers, the Karathen has three main character traits: (1) She’s very big, (2) She’s very old, and (3) She absolutely hates that Aquaman is not a full-blooded Atlantean. (He has a human father.) Yes, that’s right — Julie Andrews chose to voice a racist sea monster in Aquaman instead of making a cameo in Mary Poppins Returns.
Once it was revealed that Andrews would not be “popping” up in the Mary Poppins sequel, everyone involved was keen to clarify that the actress bore the project no ill will. It’s just, they said, that Andrews respected Emily Blunt so much she did not want to appear alongside her and run the risk of overshadowing the younger actress. “She made it clear right up front,” director Rob Marshall told Entertainment Weekly. “She said, ‘This is Emily’s show, and I really want it to be Emily’s show. I don’t want it to be, Oh, here comes that Mary Poppins.’” Whether you believe him or not, this much is clear: At some point in the recent past, the 83-year-old Dame of the British Empire decided that she did not want to return to the cheery musical world of early 20th-century London, and at roughly the same point in time, she decided that she did want to go into a voice booth and record dialogue calling a DC Comics superhero a “mongrel” and a “half-breed.”
On their press tour, the Aquaman filmmakers have spoken about how delighted they were that Andrews — who over the course of her seventy-year career has earned one Oscar, two Emmys, and three Grammys — agreed to play an immortal leviathan who does not approve of royal lineage being spoiled by impure blood. “We wanted the Karathen to have the voice of a classic British actress, albeit somewhat digitally altered,” producer Peter Safran told EW, which has quietly become the outlet of record for those of us who are following the story of a musical legend shunning the franchise that gave her one of her most iconic roles in favor of a small voice part where she insults an anthropomorphic pectoral muscle for his lower social status. “[W]hen we found out Julie [a classically trained soprano who could once boast a four-octave range] was interested and available and excited to do it, casting her [as an elitist cephalopod] was a no-brainer.”
And why not? This is Julie Andrews, a woman who rose from childhood poverty to the heights of stage and screen stardom, a thespian with the range to play Victor and Victoria! She’s already been in one Mary Poppins movie, what’s the point of doing another? Psychiatrists have found that a desire to seek out new experiences “is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age,” and what could be a newer experience for an actor than voicing a CGI squid who lives at the center of the earth and would almost certainly have a poor opinion of Meghan Markle? Let Dick Van Dyke be the one who has to memorize more lines about tuppence; Julie Andrews would much rather spend a single afternoon playing a villainous underwater snob with a lot to learn about respecting others’ cultural heritage, thank you very much.