Now, with #Disney's #BeautyAndTheBeast having soundly thrashed all comers at the box office this past weekend (to the tune of $174 million, no less), it's perhaps not all that surprising that a whole lot of folks are wondering just how the heck they did it. After all, while other movie studios are struggling with high-profile flops and a general air of #boxoffice disappointment, Disney seems to be going from strength to strength, with each year somehow bringing an even stronger — and more fan-friendly — cinematic lineup than the one before.
2017 may have been given a spectacular lead-off by Beauty and the Beast, then, but with the studio still having a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, a pair of Pixar movies, a trio of Marvel Studios films and a relatively un-hyped project named Star Wars: The Last Jedi on the way, few would bet against them hitting a whole lot more home runs in the year to come. How, though, has that history-defying consistency come to be? Well...
According To Disney's President Of Motion Picture Production, Disney's Success Is Simple
Specifically, as Sean Bailey, the president and head of motion picture production over at Walt Disney Pictures (i.e. the man who gets the credit for Beauty and the Beast's live-action success) recently suggested during an interview with Deadline, there are three key reasons for the success that Disney (and, by extension, Beauty and the Beast) has recently seemed to have on tap: Brand consistency, politically conscious diversity and a very specific system of production.
Consistency, It Seems, Is A Virtue
Firstly, Bailey argues, the studio has begun to approach films with a more proactive, brand-focused attitude. As he puts it:
"The way we used to look at each potential film was, could it be Disney? Now, the question becomes, should it be Disney? Does our brand mean more than if our competitors make the film? Looking at it that way, the Disney brand has become a competitive advantage. As eager as I am to see 'Dunkirk,' a movie like that wouldn’t be where our competitive advantage lies. 'Beauty And The Beast' and 'Maleficent,' that’s a different story."
As a result, we're unlikely to see too many Lone Ranger and John Carter films emerging from the studio in the near future — with Disney's live-action division instead focusing on film's that seem more inherently "Disney" in some way, whether that's by remaking classic animated movies, or being more selective in the way original live-action projects are formulated. How those films are selected, though, may also be a key reason for Beauty and the Beast's success. Specifically, there seems to be an awareness over at Disney that:
Diversity Can Open More Doors Than It Closes
Indeed, as Bailey himself argues:
"We’ve always been the name on the door, but we weren’t an acquisition... After 'Alice [in Wonderland]' worked the way it did in 2010, we asked ourselves, what does it mean? We were seeing Marvel and its superheroes with a very male focus and the same with Star Wars... There was opportunity with the female audience, and we had a lot of big characters here that we consider to be ours. Marvel has Iron Man, Captain America and Thor; we have Cinderella, Snow White and Belle. Pairing those characters with great live-action talent and technology, something that Walt always aspired to, with technology that has moved so far forward, just seemed a smart way to go."
That approach, it seems, played a major part in the modernizing of Beauty and the Beast's #Belle, with the politically active and outspoken #EmmaWatson's casting being no coincidence. As Bailey puts it:
"We knew we wanted Belle to be a more empowered character, an ambitious, innovator version of the ’91 film... Emma embodied those things in her own life and it showed in her performance."
All of this focusing of intention, though, is arguably the result of a wider trend at Disney — one that, while still somewhat unusual, could well dominate #Hollywood in the years to come: The silo system.
Meet Your New Best Friend, The Silo System
Now, when Alan Horn arrived at Disney back in 2012 as its new Chairman, he brought an unusual idea along with him. Rather than forcing each division of the company to directly compete with one another, or to fit into a rigidly enforced release slate, he instituted a "silo system," in which each branch of the company (Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm Disney Animation and Bailey's live-action-focused Walt Disney Pictures) operate more or less independently of one another, under the overarching aegis of Horn himself.
As a result, Disney's different branches are able to remain in friendly competition with one another, without feeling that they have to "win" against one another. Instead, the whole scenario seems really rather friendly. As Bailey notes, the heads of the other movie divisions are now less rivals, and more teammates:
"They are gracious when you succeed, with calls and emails, and they are often very valuable second sets of eyes. Kathy [Kennedy], Kevin [Feige] and I always talk about filmmakers, editors. If I have a problem, I can ask, what do you think of this? It’s a very supportive system, with the attitude that all boats rise in success."
And so, if by the time 2020 rolls around pretty much every studio out there is rocking a similar "silo system," filled with conscious diversity and a stronger sense of brand identity, you know what to thank for it: That $174 million opening weekend for Beauty and the Beast, and any/all of the similar success stories that follow it.
What do you think, though? What do you reckon the real secret to Disney's success is? Let us know below!
There's more Beauty and the Beast content over at Movie Pilot Video.