Beauty and the Beast and the future of Disney's live-action remakes
Step aside, superheroes. Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast opened March 17 to a whopping $357 million worldwide, shattering multiple box office records. Not only did Bill Condon’s lavish retelling earn the best PG-rated opening of all time, but it beat out last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for the biggest March opening ever.
Live-action remakes have been a cornerstone of Disney’s film strategy since 2010’s Alice in Wonderland starring Johnny Depp, and the studio has been steadily mining its library of animated films to huge profits ever since, but Beauty and the Beast — starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens — is by far its biggest (and technically trickiest) revamp. After this success, the possibilities for the studio now seem almost limitless.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Mouse House — which also stores all the Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars films in its arsenal — is charging full steam ahead with a whole slate of live-action reboots, including Mulan, Aladdin, The Lion King, and more. That vision syncs up pretty well with the man who founded the place. “What Walt Disney did with all these animated classics was that he took these tales that he knew were timeless and he reinvented them,” says Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production. “So we thought, Well, we can reapproach these stories with the very best talent and the very best technology available, and we can try to make them reflect the world around us a little more.”
So far it seems to be working: While a few of Disney’s live-action originals, such as John Carter and The Lone Ranger, have flopped, fans have flocked to see the animated characters they love return to the big screen. “For many audiences, these characters are Disney’s superheroes,” Bailey says. “Marvel has Captain America, Iron Man, Thor. Disney has Belle, Cinderella, Simba.”
But if you’re worried that Beauty’s massive box office will motivate Disney to use it as a formula for future films, fear not. Bailey says that the studio sees every film as its own entity. The current draft of the new Mulan, for example, ditches the songs altogether. “I think it’s dangerous to fall into a playbook approach,” Bailey says. Theoretically, the studio could churn out updates until it has exhausted its entire library, but it’s really only looking at updating films that are at least 20 years old. Which means? “No live-action Frozen for quite some time,” he says, laughing.
Okay, now that we’ve crushed those dreams, let’s talk sequels. If princesses are the new superheroes, does that mean Disney is setting these movies up as franchises, Marvel-style? Not yet, at least. There are currently no plans for a Beauty sequel or spinoff, but Bailey isn’t closing the book on the idea, and he says there’s a possibility of another story set in the same world or a spinoff focusing on a side character. “I feel like [Beauty] is a pretty whole experience, but nothing is off the table if we find an idea that excites us,” he says.
And if the studio does decide to greenlight a follow-up, it may not have to look far for inspiration. When asked whether he had discussed a potential sequel, Dan Stevens replied, “Only Josh Gad’s ridiculous ideas. That’s sort of what Josh does, comes up with mad ideas.” Hey, be our guest, Josh.