“Beauty and the Beast” Shatters Box Office Records

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“Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s latest live action update of a cartoon classic, waltzed its way to a staggering $170 million debut this weekend, setting a new record for a March opening and solidifying Disney’s status as the dominant player in the film business.

“Beauty and the Beast” represents another part of Disney’s branded strategy. It’s the latest fairy tale adaptation to hit screens. Others in the lucrative group include “Alice in Wonderland,” which picked up $1 billion worldwide, “Cinderella” with its $543.5 million global haul, and last year’s “The Jungle Book,” which racked up a mighty $966.6 million after finishing its run. Remakes of “Dumbo” and “Mulan” are already in the works, as Disney commits to putting a live action spin on the bulk of its animated properties (Fans of “Treasure Planet” may be out of luck).

The latest fairy tale follows Belle, a bookish girl in France played by Harry Potter film veteran Emma Watson, who helps a tortured Beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” fame) break out of his shell. In the process she lifts a curse that’s left the Beast’s kingdom populated by talking household items. “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t muck about with the elements that made the 1991 film so beloved. Director Bill Condon kept the basic plot intact, while fleshing out a bit more of Belle’s backstory, and retaining a soundtrack that includes “Be Our Guest” and “Belle.” All those elaborate musical numbers and chatty cutlery don’t come cheap. “Beauty and the Beast” carries a hefty $160 million budget. It should make that money back many times over after ticket sales are tallied and new lines of princess wear are whipped up to satisfy new generations of Belle lovers.

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