Beauty and the Beast may not be the best Disney film ever made, but the fantastical box office success of the new, live action re-telling of the 1991 animated classic confirms the happy ending: Disney still rules the castle. Only in its second weekend, Beauty and the Beast's global box office receipts soared past the $500 million mark and some analysts guess it might enter the uber-exclusive $1 billion club, usually reserved for avatars or stories from a galaxy far, far away.
Disney's strategy of mining its animated library to recraft live action remakes has rekindled the studio's box office magic. For example, last year's The Jungle Book raked in $967 million at the global box office, and there are plenty more live action remakes in the pipeline. Reports are that the studio is already busy working on Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Snow White, Pinocchio, Peter Pan and even Dumbo.
The backstory of Beauty and the Beast can serve as a treasure map of Disney's rediscovered success. In the 1980s, the Mouse House had fallen on rough times. Disney classics of the 1940s and '50s (Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp) were distant memories and some of the studio's newer animated features (The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective) were box office duds. Then cameThe Little Mermaid in 1989 and, more significantly, Beauty and the Beast in 1991, launching what many considered to be the so-called "Disney Renaissance." Beauty and the Beast was a huge hit with audiences and went on to make motion picture history when it became the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (Disney's Up and Toy Story 3 have since been the only other Best Picture nominees).
The success of Beauty and the Beast inspired Disney executives to try something new: Broadway. Beauty and the Beast was Disney's first fully realized stage musical, opening in New York City in 1994 and continuing to run for 5,461 performances, making it the 10th most successful Broadway production in history. There have since been other stage adaptations of Disney classics (The Lion King, Tarzan, Aladdin), but it was Beauty and the Beast that sparked the notion of reimagining the animated films with live actors.
Success begat success. Some of the planet's best songwriters began writing Disney musicals: Elton John, Randy Newman and Phil Collins all won Oscars for writing scores for Disney. Some of Hollywood's A-list talent was anxious to lend voice to Disney characters, including Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Kevin Kline, Eddie Murphy, Amy Poehler, Emma Thompson, Robin Williams and Oprah Winfrey.
Disney's theme parks were reimagined, too, with greater emphasis on characters from the "Disney Renaissance." When the company's motion picture division began a new era of live action remakes, beginning with 2010's Alice in Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp, Disney was back on top again.
As if that wasn't proof enough of the beauty and beastly power of Disney's newest box office hit, look no further than the New York Stock Exchange, where Disney shares this week topped out at $112. That's a stunning $90 per share jump since 2012 and a massive $111 per share jump since 1985.
Uncle Walt would be proud.