When you have all the money, you can be this risky.
Don’t worry, Disney has no plans to make a “sequel” to Beauty and the Beast. But that isn’t to say they’re not going to produce a follow-up to the enormously successful musical fairy tale. Walt Disney Pictures president of production Sean Bailey told Deadline this week that they are considering spinoff and prequel possibilities. Maybe that means we see Gaston’s origin story or a movie about the married characters played by Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald. How about a gay romance for Le Fou?
The truth is, though, spinoffs and prequels are still each a form of sequel. There’s a matter of semantics that says otherwise with regards to why Bailey stresses those specific types of franchise expansion while dismissing the other, but they all continue the story, whether it’s forwards, backwards, or to the side. It makes sense, given the failure of Alice Through the Looking Glass, that Disney might be opposed to the term “sequel” as it implies the forward continuation. Yet who’s to say any other follow-up is safer?
Fortunately, Disney is making so much money lately overall, including the profits they’re already seeing with Beauty and the Beast, that they can afford to explore territory that has already proved treacherous for them. They’ve had no success with follow-ups to live-action remakes of animated features so far. Not with 102 Dalmatians in 2000 nor the Alice sequel last year, which very well could have just been a Mad Hatter spinoff and played roughly the same way (nor have other studios, as evidenced with The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Meanwhile, there has been interest from the studio in making direct, forward-continuation sequels to Maleficent and The Jungle Book.
Not every moneymaker needs to be broadened outward. Fans flocked to Beauty and the Beast for a straight rehash of the beloved 1991 animated version, to see famous actors cosplay as cartoon characters and sing karaoke. And they got a little bit of bonus material in padded back stories and extra music numbers, but they mostly were satisfied in getting exactly what they wanted. They don’t necessarily want another movie that primarily does something else, any more than they wanted the animated Beauty and the Beast sequels, which were direct-to-video releases for a reason.
Disney doesn’t always know what’s best, for fans or general audiences or their own bank account. This quote from Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon in a recent The Hollywood Reporter interview makes that clear:
Before I arrived, they were rethinking Beauty and the Beast more radically, more like Snow White and the Huntsman. There was a lot of conversation about the War of the Austrian Succession that didn’t interest me. But then after Frozen opened, the studio saw that there was this big international audience for an old-school-musical approach. But initially they said, “We’re interested in a musical to a degree, but only half full of songs.” My interest was taking that film and doing it in this new medium – live action – as a full-on musical movie. So I backed out for a minute, and they came back and said, “No, no, no, we get it, let’s pursue it that way.”
Condon had the right idea and, beneficial to the studio’s shareholders, he was listened to. Now the same formula would seem the way to go with the other live-action remakes Disney has in development, and yet for Mulan the plan is to do away with songs. While that could result in a more interesting movie, it isn’t the most lucrative way to go. Originally, Disney was going to focus on a Genie-centric prequel as their live-action Aladdin, but the change of idea to go with a straight remake, songs intact, will be more popular.
At least for the time being Disney hasn’t made any indication they’re thinking of also branching out for crossovers. On the one hand, they already have the TV series Once Upon a Time, which mashes up their properties. On the other hand, realistically the only movie Beauty and the Beast could maybe link up with given their time periods is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, specifically the Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment. Meanwhile, there is a script going around Hollywood that’s basically a Disney Princesses crossover, even though it will likely be made by another studio.
The concentration right now, and even this is not ideal for audiences seeking new, original ideas, should be the live-action remake track, of which there are about 14 titles announced so far and many others to add to the pile for many years’ worth of releases. Of course, once the slate is exhausted it could be too late to make follow-ups for whatever landed the best, since ideally you’d want the same actors. The time for No One Prequels Like Gaston is probably now if ever, with never being the preferred option.