Disney owns Marvel. Disney owns Pixar. Disney owns Star Wars.
Disney also owns a ridiculously formidable library of classics, a prominent home video distribution arm, an animation arm that still releases at least one movie every year, and in a relatively low-key 2015, the studio is comfortably the second-highest grossing studio before the release of The Force Awakens and a second Pixar movie (and after the floptastic loss from Tomorrowland).
So why would Disney want to make a new musical movie featuring Mary Poppins?
It’s the kind of question that makes no sense to ask in the current climate of remakes and re-establishing old, beloved characters, yet that climate has numbed us to the barrel-scraping nature that comes with mining your own material for a new hit. Before it became the norm, we would have recognized it as a desperation move, but even though rebooting is common now, it still hasn’t lost all of its negative baggage. At least I hope not. That’s why every time a development story like this lands, it will always seem strange, and it will always seem stranger when a strong studio is the one making the push.
This may be the studio that looks to its theme park rides for cinematic inspiration – a move that was originally mocked, and then celebrated for its ingenuity – but it’s also a studio that has made big strides to accumulate some of the most impressive (read: productive) properties in modern cinema.
They range from the adaptive (LucasFilm, Marvel) to the original (Pixar, Wreck-it-Ralph, upcoming animated projects) to the franchised (Pixar again), so it seems maddening that Disney would also be looking to pour its old characters into new wineskins. They aren’t hurting for money or recognition; they have several departments pumping on all cylinders; they’re poised to continue dominating for at least as many years as Star Wars movies stay fun.
So the only reason I can think of for their desire to strip mine Mary Poppins is that they aren’t satisfied with taking over the world.
Granted, they did something similar a few years ago with Maleficent, but even that was a different situation then the one Mary Poppins will see. Whereas the former had the sheen of an animated villain brought to live-action life as an anti-hero, Mary Poppins will stand (regardless of how they want to sell it to us) as a decades-later sequel featuring a new actor in an iconic, Oscar-earning role. Same Poppins, same Bankses, but a different Poppins and different Bankses living in a different time.
As of its announcement, it’s the only project of its kind at Disney, surrounded by other forthcoming live-action takes on animated figures from their archives/the public domain (more Alice in Wonderland, a new Sword in the Stone, a new Jungle Book, a new Beauty and the Beast), and the rest of their Pixar/nature photography/Han Solo-based slate.
Honestly, my real frustration is that normally, in years past, when a studio was rolling in money, they would use some of that spare cash on projects that wouldn’t usually get the autodrafted greenlight. It’s disappointing to see a powerful studio solely going after name-recognition titles like this while Yoda, Iron Man and The Incredibles prop them up. It’s great to see quirky winners like Wreck-It-Ralph and the adaptation-anchored originality of Frozen, and it’ll be interesting to see how projects like Zootopia and the Polynesia-set Moana do, but Disney could be doing so much more with their dominance. They certainly don’t need to search through their vault for celebrated characters to drag out of retirement.