Features and Columns · Movies

Disney Cosplay Film is Humongous Hit

By  · Published on March 20th, 2017

‘Beauty and the Beast’ maintains today’s biggest box office trend.

“It was Beauty and the Beast killed the beast…at the box office.” – paraphrasing fictional character Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong/Dudley Moore/Jack Black) seems appropriate on the occasion of Disney’s latest remake crushing the competition over the weekend. Both Logan and The Belko Experiment ran ads telling people to see “the beast” instead of “the beauty,” though that campaign would have made the most sense for Kong: Skull Island given King Kong is the source of that quote above. Well, Beauty and the Beast made more than three times as much as all those movies put together in its debut. Moviegoers overwhelmingly preferred the beauty.

Today is the rare Monday morning where a hit really does look like history. The spin and hype about Beauty and the Beast being a big deal is deserved. Taking in a $175m domestic gross, the live-action adaptation of the 1991 animated classic truly has broken the March record for best opening, even with adjustments for inflation, edging ahead of last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s also taken the Spring opening record, the PG-rated movie opening record and best PG-rated IMAX release. It’s also, obviously, the biggest opener of the Disney remake bunch, which includes Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book.

What this success means, of course, is that Disney has a strong defense to keep on adapting its animated features, something that makes a lot of us groan with disappointment with every new announcement. Sorry, guys, but it’s clearly what the people want, along with their Star Wars (Beauty actually performed better than Rogue One), Harry Potter (which like Beauty stars Emma Watson), superhero, and dinosaur movies. Beauty comes in sixth for all-time domestic openings, the rest of the top 10 falling into those other categories – that’s not adjusted for inflation, which when figured in drops the new Disney release to 12th while moving Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest up higher. Otherwise the list is mostly unchanged.

It’s also great for director Bill Condon, who now has three of the top 20 openers of all time (two of them with the inflation adjustment), though neither his name nor his talent were necessarily contributing factors to such success. What also should be taken into consideration, always, with these big box office numbers is they’re achieved with much wider releases than were seen for the original Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Batman, Beauty and the Beast, etc. The same goes for the figures we see for global box office, with more cinemas, more markets, more simultaneous releases being reported. Outside the US, Beauty overshot expectations and grossed another $180m.

What this also means is that glorified fan films continue to be the big sell these days. That isn’t as much a knock on Beauty as it might seem. That’s just where we’re at these days. When the modern blockbuster era began in the late ’70s, the movies were big, high-quality homages to lower art cinema such as serials, and then everything was B movie fare turned on its head as big budget spectaculars. First stuff was made by guys who loved the things they were reworking on the grander scale, and then the studios followed suit with what seemed to be the same idea. Now the fandom has come back around, but it’s not inspired homage so much as nostalgic continuations.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which holds the opening weekend record, is a fan film, just one that is officially authorized and recognized as canon. It continues a story without involvement of the original creator and is made by someone who grew up with the property and is indeed a fan. And that’s not a bad movie. Jurassic World is directed by a fan of Jurassic Park. And that’s not a good movie. Batman v Superman plays more like it’s in the tradition of fan films and mashup videos pitting characters against each other than comic book adaptations, even if superhero battles are also found on the page, as well. That’s fine if the initial gimmick of the pitch is supported by a strong story, and it’s not fine if not.

There’s no direct quote that I can find, but many articles and interview intros have referred to Condon as a fan or even “superfan” of the 1991 animated version of Beauty, and Watson has also admitted a certain fondness for the original. In remaking the movie, they’ve then similarly created a sort of fan film, not unlike the amateur shot-for-shot Raiders of the Lost Ark remake that some kids famously worked on for years. And scene to scene, it’s not all that different from cosplay reenactments of iconic moments. The distinction is that it is officially authorized, it is well-funded, and it is produced above and below the line by very talented professionals.

Technically you could argue that most non-original movies today are fan films, whether they’re adapted by people who loved the book being translated to the screen or remade by a movie buff with respect and nod to the previous version. A lot of the time that is a benefit in terms of the passion for the material. But also a lot of the time it means too much faithful copying and devotion to both creators and their followers. Sometimes, in the cases of The Force Awakens and to a minor degree Beauty, we get a little extra in terms of fresh characters or story depth, but with both there’s still too much that’s replication over renovation.

If It Ain’t Broke: Visual Comparisons Between Beauty and the Beast, Animated and Live-Action

Straight remakes, like Beauty, are problematic for their redundancy, and even more than the past Disney remakes, this one appears most faithful in its plot and costuming. To the point where it’s easy to mistake cosplayer photos for movie stills. It makes sense that it’s what Disney fans have wanted most. Seeing beloved animated classics turned to flesh and blood is something fans get a kick out of at Disney theme parks around the world. But it’s actually cheaper to watch Luke Evans portray Gaston at the local movie theater than seeing a Disneyland cast member in person or, another alternative, attending the Broadway adaptation.

And these movies are more adaptation than remake, too, because they’re a translation to a slightly different medium. People don’t read as much as they used to, so a very popular animated film like Beauty being turned into a live-action movie is similar to, say, an old best seller such as “Gone With the Wind” being brought to the big screen. In both situations the studios are giving fans of something an extension of that thing to be enjoyed in a new way. But now there are more fans in the middle delivering the product to the fanbases. That’s obviously working very well for both parties. What it’s doing for the movies as a creative art form, though, is up for debate.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.