Arts Society & Culture

Could the holidays provide ‘a spoonful of sugar’ for everyone?

With today’s movie market hyper-focused on films that appeal to specific demographics, the days of heading to the theater with your kids—and your parents—appear to be a thing of the past. But maybe not, according to University of Georgia film studies professor Richard Neupert.

Set for release on Dec. 19, right at the peak of the holiday movie season, Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” just might be that crowd-pleasing hit that actually draws a multigenerational crowd.

“It’s a great example of a big budget, classical project that’s going to try and go back to the old days when families used to go to movies together,” said Neupert, the Charles H. Wheatley Professor of the Arts and a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor.

It’s tough to find a film more universally beloved than 1964’s “Mary Poppins.” Julie Andrews’ star-making title performance won an Oscar, and the film’s classic songs are still enjoyed by young and old alike.

“This is what’s known as a presold product,” Neupert said. “ Everyone knows the title. Everyone knows the original, and it has a big reputation.” Still, notoriety aside, a sequel to a 54-year-old movie isn’t historically a recipe for success. But if one wants to break the mold and become a blockbuster, “Mary Poppins Returns” could be the movie to do it.

Set during the Great Depression, “Mary Poppins Returns” picks up about three decades after the legendary original’s turn-of-the-20th-century setting. Like the original, it’s a lavish musical that mixes live action with animation. Its A-list cast—Emily Blunt steps into the title role, supported by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, and in a throwback to the original, “Mary Poppins’” 93-year-old co-star Dick Van Dyke—only adds to the movie’s broad, multigenerational appeal.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is also the latest entry in what appears to be a winning strategy for Disney: approaching known properties from new angles. Sequels and franchise films dominate today’s marketplace, but according to Neupert, Disney is ideally positioned to revisit its old stories while keeping them fresh for not only new, younger audiences but also for the adults who grew up with them.

This tactic first bore fruit with 2017’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book,” both big hits. Live-action versions of Disney animated classics like “Aladdin,” “Dumbo” and “The Little Mermaid” are either in the works or ready for release in 2019. Rob Marshall, the director of “Mary Poppins Returns,” will also direct “The Little Mermaid.”

“I think the fact that Disney is doing a live-action “Little Mermaid” with the same director says that they are serious about going in this direction and not just rereleasing movies like they used to,” Neupert says. “I think it also says that they are very confident that “Mary Poppins Returns” is going to do well.”