For the past three years, a Disney-backed property launched during the Christmas movie season on the way to blockbuster results. This year will technically be no different. Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns is set to premiere on Christmas Day, and if the magical new trailer it just released is any indication we are looking at another box office monster as well as a longer term future of playing on steady rotation in homes around the world for years to come.
But this year is different. This year, Disney had a new Star Wars movie it could have easily plugged into that Christmas release window. Instead, it went with this Mary Poppins sequel starring Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel-Miranda as well as a still-dancing-in-his-90s Dick Van Dyke. Por qui?
After all, at the beginning of the year seemed supremely obvious Disney needed to delay Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest clusterfuck of a Star Wars production to push through significant reshoots and introduce the question, “Are they possibly going to get this done on time?” Beyond that, it was set to arrive just 5 months after still-divisive Last Jedi, one month after Avengers: Infinity War and one week after Deadpool 2. Surely there’s enough audience overlap there to seem concerning.
Why not delay the film until the week before Christmas as per recent Star Wars tradition? Memorial Day used to be owned by Star Wars, but that hasn’t been true in decades. Instead, modern audiences know Star Wars as the thing to see with the family over Christmas. Why not stick with that?
Because Mary Poppins Returns was already slated for Christmas day. Had been for quite some time. And while Disney’s swallowing of the film industry means it has to grow more comfortable with essentially competing with itself you don’t double up like that, release two blockbusters in back-to-back weeks. It’s a misallocation of doubled-up marketing dollars, for one thing.
Disney stuck to its guns. Pinch hitting director Ron Howard and LucasFilm somehow got the job done. Solo arrived and by modern “troubled production” standards managed to actually tell a coherent story and deliver impressive setpieces. More than you can say for The Predator. A significant delay might not have been enough time to address the inherent weaknesses in the script or the larger reality that attempting a prequel version of one of Harrison Ford’s most iconic characters was always a losing proposition. Still, the end result was the first financial miss – an estimated loss in the $50m-$80m range – for Disney since buying Luke, Leia and the rest off of George Lucas.
To be fair, it’s a difficult thing to delay the release date of a blockbuster movie. The closer you get to the initial release date the more marketing plans and assorted tie-in promotions set in. At a certain point, you’re not just delaying a little ole movie but an entire marketing apparatus engineered to slap a brand on as many saleable products as possible, and healthy relationships with movie theater owners and vendors need to be preserved to keep the train going.
Plus, Disney was possibly testing the waters for how many Star Wars movies the market can support in a 6 month stretch. Now they know might think twice before trying that again.
However, earlier this year one of the emerging rationalizations for Disney’s refusal to delay Solo argued it was more about Mary Poppins Returns than Solo. The studio was in effect giving the Rob Marshall-directed sequel to the 1964 classic a vote of confidence over the prospect of plugging another Star Wars movie into Christmas. Last year’s surprise success of The Greatest Showman musical over the Christmas holiday might have further emboldened Disney to try a different formula this Christmas. There have also been whispers of Disney eyeing a potential Oscar campaign for Emily Blunt’s performance as the character Julie Andrews immortalized.
Alternatively, Disney could have rescheduled The Nutcracker, a similar troubled production, from its November 2nd release to open that up for Solo. However, the studio again showed more confidence in its live action fairytale/remake division. The box office prospects for The Nutcracker currently seem grim, despite generally positive social media reactions to the trailers, but Mary Poppins appears poised to help Disney close out its already-historical year on a clear high note.
The only problem is the Christmapocalypse of piled up big movies all heading our way this Christmas. With no new Star Wars movie on the map, the other studios are rushing to compete for the holiday dollars as well as the customary end-of-the-year limited release kickstarting an Oscar campaign.
Mary Poppins Returns is currently scheduled to get the jump on all of them with a 12/19 release date.
This new trailer certainly has me sold. What about you? Does it strike you as a tad Hook/Christopher Robbin in its themes? Are you wowed by the modern spin on the original’s iconic design and animation? Or turned off by the imitation? Is Shary Bobbins the only British, singing nanny you’ll ever tolerate? Let me know in the comments.