Mary Poppins Returns (and Hollywood’s Never-Ending Return to the IP Well)

It’s December 21st. The smell of salty, buttery popcorn fills the air alongside the echoes of various moviegoers shuffling in and out of their respective theater rooms. While not as packed as one would expect a theater to be on a Friday (granted, it was a matinee), the film line-up is getting star-studded as we slowly gear up for Oscar season. Water people in tights, old men smuggling drugs, and a cartoon spider crowd the line-up this time around; however, my family decided to visit a familiar nanny who enjoys flying by means of an umbrella…

Sitting in the theater waiting to watch Emily Blunt’s take on the classic role of Mary Poppins, my family was greeted with a variety of trailers for new films, including The Lion Kingand Dumbo. Wait… what? As the beloved Robin Williams’ Jumanjimeme would declare, “what year is this?” And those words couldn’t be all the more surreal in 2018, as almost all big releases shown in theaters across America take the form of either reboot, sequel, or superhero giant.

Over forty films that fall into the aforementioned category (reboot, sequel, or superhero) have soaked the movie market, eating up the expanded release slots and taking the center stage of our screens by force… and for good reason. 

As Steven Spielberg once put it “the only time I have a good hunch the audience is going to be there is when I make the sequel to Jurassic Park or another Indiana Jones movie. I know I’ve got a good shot at getting an audience on opening night. Everything else that is striking out into new territory is a crap-shoot.” It’s no surprise that the reason why the film market is drenched with familiarity is because familiarity works. It’s the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra; if a business is making great money with tried and true methods, why change? According to Box Office Mojo, the top three grossing movies of this year are Black Panther ($700 million), Avengers: Infinity War ($678 million), and Incredibles 2 ($608 million). People pay to see their favorite characters over and over – and studios will make every move to feed that desire, utilizing their IP.

If you were curious about the title of this article, IP stands for “intellectual property.” It’s essentially what a film company owns in their wheelhouse to distribute. Sony has Spider-Man; Warner Bros. has Harry Potter; Disney has, well, a lot of things (that darn House of Mouse is becoming a media monopoly of sorts). Not only does IP cover these areas, but also property that has not even released yet, whether it be scripts or books to be adapted. The decision on what project to proceed with for a company takes immense thought and planning, all according to what is trending or what can be tailored to a modern audience, specifically the biggest demographic (18-49 year-olds). 

These modern-tailored features of old properties (commonly referred to as reboots or, in some cases, sequels) are a strong concoction of trending actors, rising directors, and a story that has been proven to work but with a new twist. No one would care to see another movie about a cursed board game starring a bunch of nobodies; but, toss in the Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, make the board game a video game, and you’ve got something going for you. The same could be applied to Mary Poppins Returns. While the original is a classic, no family was clamoring for a follow-up, especially without Julie Andrews being the titular nanny. However, when the trailer dropped detailing a sentimental adventure paying homage to the original, with the trending Emily Blunt in Poppins’ shoes, ears perked up.

While it may seem like the film industry is lazy or running out of ideas, almost all decisions for any business are made on the foundation of what sells. Unfortunately, we live in a time where sequels, reboots, and superhero flicks dominate the box office, but that’s only because we let it. We gave Black Panther that $700 million, just as we’re going to be flooding the theaters to fork over some dough to Mary Poppins. It’s tragic, but all trends change like the tides of the sea. The superhero era will become that of the western era, just as sequels or reboots will slowly not prove as bankable as they once were. When that time comes, a new era of film will usher in; what that will be, we’ll never know. For now, we’ll just have to relive all of Disney’s old properties, repackaged with new casts and better effects…

For my full review of “Mary Poppins Returns,” click here.

Harrison Dove-Green is a staff writer for the Daily Runner.