‘Mary Poppins’ Returns, As Studios Raid Their Vaults

While “Mary Poppins” is a somewhat unusual case — magical nannies don’t age — it nicely encapsulates the balancing act that current studio calculations require. And it comes at a singular moment for the company behind it, Disney, which is aggressively raiding its vaults and seeking to breathe new life into signature titles — a practice that has been largely rewarded but has proven something less than foolproof.
To its credit, Disney and its Lucasfilm unit acknowledged that they might have been overfishing the “Star Wars” waters after their latest stand-alone effort, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” fell short of box-office forecasts. Never mind that the movie was actually pretty good, a number of contemplated launches were put on a slowdown pattern.
That was just a blip, however, in a “Star Wars” galaxy that’s teeming with life, including new movie franchises and programming intended to drive subscriptions to Disney’s planned streaming service.
On the flip side, Warner Bros. and director Bradley Cooper found surprising life in another version of “A Star is Born,” roughly 80 years after the first graced the screen. HBO, meanwhile, began actively working on a “Game of Thrones” prequel to soften the blow of losing its most popular series, determined to avoid any significant lapse in Westeros-set drama.
Inevitably, a few conspicuous failures yield questions about whether it’s time to hit the brakes on remake/reboot/revival mania, contemplating where the limits are on audience appetites.
Yet the truth is that these venerable properties are seen — with considerable justification — as the solution to a marketing problem. In a world crawling with options, consumers don’t have to be educated about “Mary Poppins,” “Dumbo” or “The Lion King,” which means studios don’t have to work as hard to sell them.
    Everyone seems to have their own personal “Nope, that’s going too far” threshold. Those reactions occasionally surprise the Hollywood hierarchy, such as the “You ruined my childhood!” backlash — small, but absurdly vocal — that greeted an all-female “Ghostbusters,” a fun movie in its original guise, but not exactly on a par with “Citizen Kane” or “Casablanca.”
    Acting as if it’s sacrilegious to think of iconic movies and TV becoming fodder for spinoffs and expansions is understandable, but it ignores the pressure to stand out amid modern saturation of content and media. As long as studios keep struggling with how to break through that clutter, expect many more “Returns,” happy or otherwise.

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