The game is afoot, as Sherlock Holmes is wont to say, with the folks at Disney and the revival of the studios Women Empowerment Movement (WEM).
Disney attempted to do for one of its nastiest villains what the Broadway play WICKED did for the Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Angelina Jolie presented a misunderstood and even compassionate version of MALEFICENT, arguably the most demonic of Disney antagonists. The effort resulted in one of Jolie's best roles and several Oscar nods. The film capped the WEM campaign at Disney.
Many years previous, folk with far too much time on their hands, rallied against Disney claiming its animated fare was sexist. They readily singled out most of the studio's evildoers where women, and this representation did harm for all the little girls who flocked to Disney films. Disney is a company very cognizant of its politically correct image, so it addressed the complaint by producing a series of animated fare featuring heroines, rather than charming princes. Audiences were treated to films like POCAHONTAS, MULAN, and THE LITTLE MERMAID. They also included strong woman characters in other fare. For example: THE INCREDIBLES featured a family of superheroes. The father was rather inept, while the mother provided the strength and resolve for the family to function properly, and of course, save the day.
Disney's WEM was box office gold. Moms dragged little and big brothers with their sisters to see these films, generally to much male chagrin. With the success of MALEIFICENT, Disney decided to move the WEM to live action.
CINDERELLA is the first of a foray of planned live action films from the WEM era. Others include: THE LITTLE MERMAID; MULAN; BEAUTY AND THE BEAST; TINKER BELL; POCAHONTAS; and RAPUNZEL.
Disney wields much force in Tinseltown, so it was interesting to note the trade magazines boasted of CINDERELLA's worldwide box office take of $132 million in headlines. Bragging about a worldwide take always raises a yellow flag.
CINDERELLA, domestically, took in $70 million its opening weekend. Sources at Disney were anticipating a $90 million or better return. While enough to capture the top slot in the Top Ten for the weekend, CINDERELLA's return was actually $20 million or more less than what Disney anticipated. The film's staying power should guarantee its investment, however the less than expected return could signal a shift in the anticipated releases.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is next in the live action genre for Disney. The movie will star Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast and Luke Evans, who was a pretty respectable Dracula, as Gaston. The only American in the cast so far is Josh Gad, who will play Le Fou, the story's buffoon comic relief. Guess Disney thinks the live version will have more gravitas with British actors.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST highlights Belle, but the Beast appeals to the male viewers. With a more general audience entreaty, the movie's opening weekend could certainly be stronger than CINDERELLA. If not, rewrites, re-thinks and reorganizations could be in line for the rest of Disney's WEM revival.