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Disney Was Right to Choose Mary Poppins Returns Over Solo As Its Big Christmas Movie This Year

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.

Force Awakens, Rogue One, Last Jedi – all release over Christmas. Why should Solo be any different?

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.

Solo’s sub-$400m worldwide gross represented a 62% decrease from the prior standalone film in the franchise, 2016’s Rogue One, and 70% decrease from Last Jedi.

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.


  1. Nutcracker has to get released around Christmas if they want any chance at all to make money with it. This might not work on the American market, but it will for sure work in Europe, especially Russia, where The Nutcracker (the ballet) is a Christmas stable.

    Anyway, one thing which stuck out to me looking at the comments under the Mary Poppins trailer was how many people expressed excitement about seeing traditional animation from Disney again, even if it is only in a few scenes. I hope Disney takes note of that.

    Otherwise, I think Disney did everything right. Mary Poppins will sweep up all the money in the world, while the various action movies will cannibalize each other. It is naive to think that Solo wouldn’t have gotten a challenger or two, but Mary Poppins, well, most studios went out of the way of that one.

    Not sure that I’ll watch it, though. To be honest, I have my eyes set on the Nutcracker. Because there is already a perfect good Mary Poppins movie I can watch whenever I want. But I am still waiting to see a good Nutcracker adaptation.

    1. Agreed about the Christmas action movies cannibalizing each other and MP Returns standing out as being unlike everything else.

      The Nutcracker is a tougher one to…wait for it, and I swear I didn’t intentionally set out to do this…crack. It’s too far out to get a reliable read on its box office prospects, but the figure I saw has it at $15-$30m opening weekend, meaning Disney has a lot of ground to make up with its marketing over the next couple of months. Similar to Solo, they replaced directors and reshot large chunks, but they are holding to that release date, which applies to both here and most of Europe. They can literally afford to take a chance on it, but I agree a later release date closer to Christmas in the countries that are more accustomed to annual Nutcracker celebrations than the US would make more sense.

      “Not sure that I’ll watch it, though. To be honest, I have my eyes set on the Nutcracker. Because there is already a perfect good Mary Poppins movie I can watch whenever I want. But I am still waiting to see a good Nutcracker adaptation.”

      That’s fair. There is indeed a classic Mary Poppins movie already. They’re still trying to get there with Nutcracker. The trailers, so far, remind me of the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movies just with around 60% less of his signature, monochromatic visual flourishes.

      1. It reminds me of Narnia meeting Fantasia with a pitch of Alice in Wonderland. If they managed to marry the Music and the visuals of Fantasia with the most epic moments of Narnia we might be fine. It is the pitch of Alice in Wonderland which worries me. Thus said, the Nutcracker lends itself way more to some kind of linear storytelling that Alice does, while also being a story lose enough that you can switch around scenes at will even in the ballet…the only thing fixed is the start and the ending. So, hopefully Disney managed to do something good with it.

        The current release date is close enough to Christmas. Remember, in a lot of European countries Christmas time starts at the first of December. Especially true for Germany. Most theatres schedule The Nutcracker for end of November to December.

      2. Can definitely see the Narnia and Fantasia vibes. Feel like the first trailer was heavier on that and the second trailer was far closer to Alice (or vice versa; can’t remember which). Either way,the general point remains the same – the more similar this is to Alice the worse off it will probably be. Good thing, as you pointed out, the source material storyline lends itself more directly to linear storytelling.

      3. Not necessarily…a bit issue with the Alice movies is that Alice in Wonderland was never meant to be a chosen one story. Well, and the writing was just bad, but mostly it was the attempt to create a traditional storyline where there shouldn’t be one. But the Nutcracker, that is pretty much your standard fairy tale peppered with weird elements. If nothing else, the movie will look impressive and you can never go wrong with the music from the Nutcracker (though the song they used in the one trailer was kind of off-putting…I hope that in reality, the movie is full with the original music). If they want to turn Clara into an inventor or the daughter of an inventor or whatever, all power to them. Frankly, the story of the Nutcracker could have always used improvement, it’s the music and the different worlds which made it so popular.

        If nothing else, they picked a better main actress. This one has charisma.

  2. It looks good. Faithful. I will be interested in the longevity of the songs though. A lot of the first MP movie was the songs. So good to see dick van dyke and to a lesser extent angela (why wasnt she in the beauty and beat live action) Lansbury. I hope it does well. Xmas is magical. As for solo. I think even if they left it till xmas it was still suffering last jedi backlash so would need to have waited 2 years i think for release.

    1. “I will be interested in the longevity of the songs though. A lot of the first MP movie was the songss.”

      I was so wrapped up in the visual splendor of it all that I did actually forget that. But, you’re right. It is a musical, after all. What we did hear in the trailer sounds good. So, off to a great start, this MP2 marketing campaign.

  3. I see that the Disney machine still refuses to admit that it fucked up by releasing “SOLO” so soon. I’ve seen the trailer for “MARY POPPINS RETURNS”. I’m just not interested. It probably will be a hit.

    1. Solo, it seems, was ultimately a greedy over-reach, a test case for whether the market would possibly support two Star Wars movies a year, opening the way for a future where a new Star Wars movie could arrive every 6 months. It didn’t work, and while they’ve since backed away from that on the film side they’re now gambling that the market will support a live-action TV series, animated series, and theatrical movies. So, they’re still squeezing as much out of it as possible, just shifting more to TV now to prop up Disney+.

      On Mary Poppins Returns, I do wonder what the appeal is for anyone not already familiar with the original Mary Poppins, but, then again, the original is so iconic and Disney’s recent track record with these revived classics so strong that we do seem to be looking at another huge hit.

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