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Disney’s blockbuster formula for rebooting tales as old as time

Posted at 11:31 AM, Mar 18, 2017

As “Beauty and the Beast” waltzes into theaters this weekend, the live-action take on the 1991 animated classic is looking lovely for Disney.

Starring Emma Watson, “Beauty and the Beast” is another reimagined tale for Disney that follows box office hits “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), “Maleficent” (2014), “Cinderella” (2015) and most recently, “The Jungle Book.”

Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios motion picture production, told CNN the company’s strategy of adapting its animated classics for contemporary audiences can be traced back to Walt Disney himself.

“We looked a lot at what Walt did,” Bailey said. “Walt took these beautiful, timeless stories he knew had lasting relevance, and he then sort of applied the sensibilities of his times.”

By design, Disney’s live-action remakes appeal to people who are nostalgic for the animated films they grew up with, along with children seeing the stories for the first time.

“Someone once said to Walt Disney that you make movies for kids, and he said, ‘No I don’t. I make movies for the kids inside all of us, whether we’re six or 60,'” Bailey said. “That’s sort of how we feel. We try to treat these stories in a way that we can transport adults to a feeling of awe and wonderment that’s more childlike… and we never try to bring anything down to kids. We believe kids can handle some complexity.”

By switching up the classic stories just enough, Disney has managed to make the reboots feel both new and familiar. The story of “Sleeping Beauty,” for example, was told from the perspective of the villain in “Maleficent.”

The star power Disney has attracted to the live-action revivals also broadens their appeal.

“When you’re able to bring wonderful casts to some of these characters — that haven’t been realized in live action… you can sort of bring layers and texture,” Bailey said. “If you look at something like ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ well, why is Belle’s father, Maurice, so protective? Why is she in the provincial town? You can expand the stories and enhance the stories.”

This version of “Beauty,” a story about looking for the beauty within, advances the film’s message of acceptance by introducing that the character of LeFou (Josh Gad) is gay.

Gad told People that the story is “one of inclusiveness” — a point Bailey agreed with, without commenting further. “We look forward to people seeing the movie,” he said.

After a solid Thursday night opening, “Beauty” is projected to bring in $140 million this weekend, according to analysts. Disney, however, is managing expectations by putting its forecast at $120 million.

Still, the studio’s $160 million production investment in “Beauty” — and in more live-action films — speaks volumes.

Remakes of “Dumbo,” “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” “Mulan” and “Pinocchio” are all in development, along with sequels to “The Jungle Book” and “Maleficent.”

These stories helped make the House of Mouse the empire it is today, Bailey said, noting that Disney’s headquarters are held up by the Seven Dwarfs.

“The hope would be that Disney is considered to be leader in these stories for the world,” he said. “That we tell them in such a way that the world sees themselves reflected in these times in these timeless stories.”