If there were any doubts of whether Disney's animated classic Beauty and the Beast could translate into live-action success, those doubts were quickly vaporized over the weekend with the film's record-shattering $170 million domestic opening. Coming on the heels of the live-action successes of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book, the adaptation of Beauty and the Beast was without question Disney's biggest live-action risk to date, and its massive opening makes the pending adaption of two more of its classics – Dumbo and The Lion King, which are both set to go into production this spring – seem much more viable.
Of course, when a film opens as big as Beauty and the Beast does, the natural inclination for any studio is to figure out how to follow it up to further cash in on the success of the brand. Sure, Belle had her share of straight-to-video animated titles in the form of Christmas specials and the like after the success of the 1991 Best Picture Oscar-nominated film, but parlaying the property into another live-action feature film is a bit more tricky given all the moving parts involved.
For the time being, Walt Disney Head of Production Sean Bailey tells Deadline that the studio won't push the idea of continuing the story of Beauty and the Beast.
"There are currently no plans for a sequel and the studio — perhaps with Alice Through The Looking Glass as a reminder — won’t try to force one. It will explore possible spinoff and prequel scenarios."
Disney learned a hard lesson in the reception of Alice Through the Looking Glass last year, which not only was lambasted by critics (it earned a dismal 30 percent aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes) and earned just shy of $300 million at the worldwide box office. By contrast, Alice in Wonderland, while it didn't score much better than its sequel critically (52 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), rang up more than $1 billion in global ticket sales.
If Disney does indeed make a prequel or a spinoff of some sort, it will need to act quickly if it were to somehow involve stars Emma Watson, Luke Evans, or Dan Stevens, especially since a prequel would have to make them appear younger in age. Whether the studio uses the current cast or not, the next challenge for the studio would be to come up with a story that would have to make sense in the overall context of the Beauty and the Beast storyline.
But perhaps the most important factor, Bailey learned, was to give the project time to develop properly. He tells Deadline that in its original iteration, the live-action Beauty and the Beast wasn't even a musical.
"We worked on this for five or six years, and for 18 months to two years, Beauty was a serious dramatic project, and the scripts were written to reflect that. It wasn’t a musical at that time. But we just couldn’t get it to click and it was Alan Horn who championed the idea of owning the Disney of it all. We realized there was a competitive advantage in the songs. What is wrong with making adults feel like kids again?"
With only one misfire since the introduction of Disney's live-action adaptations since 2010, it seems pretty certain that with Bailey in the mix, the right decisions will be made with what to do next with Beauty and the Beast. He's certainly cognizant of what can go wrong when a property is pushed too far; plus by the time the idea of a follow-up to the tale as old as time enters the conversation at the studio, he'll have spent time with such productions as Dumbo, The Lion King and Mulan to further inform his live-action filmmaking experience.
- Beauty and the Beast (2017) release date: Mar 17, 2017