The news that Disney intends to produce a live-action Beauty and the Beast retelling (probably in 3D) might come across as sacrilege for those who grew up loving the company's traditionally-animated version, but shouldn't be a surprise following the successful (as in cash cow) fairy tale revisionist blockbusters Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful.
Mouse House executives are calling the project The Beast and have recruited Joe Ahearne to write the script. Ahearne co-wrote the upcoming Danny Boyle-directed thriller Trance (loosely based on the screenwriter's 2001 TV movie), in addition to previously writing for the TV series Ultraviolet and Apparitions and the forthcoming Da Vinci's Demons. His resume suggests Ahearne was brought aboard to write a darker fairy tale re-imagining - something which pushes Disney's family-friendly boundaries further than Tim Burton's gloomy vision of Wonderland (or Sam Raimi's threatening rendition of Oz).
Deadline is reporting that David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman (The Muppets) are producing Beast, as opposed to Alice and Oz champion producer Joe Roth (who also backed Universal's Grimm fable re-imagining Snow White and the Huntsman). Roth is producing both the gestating Alice sequel and the recently-confirmed Oz followup, in addition to the Summer 2014 release Maleficent (which is to Sleeping Beauty what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz).
Disney must be hoping to get Beast into production before Guillermo del Toro turns his attention to making his own Beauty and the Beast live-action movie, with Emma Watson (loosely) attached to play the Beauty half of the equation. This puts the Mouse House's project on course to begin filming sometime during 2014, while del Toro is preoccupied shooting and editing his haunted house feature Crimson Peak (and possibly moving forward on a sequel to Pacific Rim, if the filmmaker's giant monsters versus giant robots opus proves a box office smash).
Beast could also be the third film of its kind to hit the big screen over the next few years, after Maleficent in 2014 and Disney's live-action Cinderella retelling - which director Kenneth Branagh (Thor) looks to begin production on before the end of 2013, possibly with a 2015 release date in mind. Of course, that will depend on whether the studio prioritizes development on either the Alice followup or next Oz installment (both of which are currently without a director).
Disney's recent crop of fairy tales retold have avoided some of the problems which keeping showing up in films such as Jack the Giant Slayer and Snow White. However, there are (unwelcome) similarities between Alice and Oz, suggesting the studio's already comfortable with an okay quality/high profit turnout on these films. So long as they keep bringing in big financial rewards, though, there is no reason to think Disney heads are gonna call it quits while they're ahead...
We'll keep you posted on The Beast as more information is released.