All signs are pointing “Beauty and the Beast” in the direction of another enormous box office hit for Disney, with early tracking estimates aimed at a $120-million opening weekend next Friday.
But the biggest buzz surrounding the film in the lead-up to release isn’t about Emma Watson’s take on Belle or how Ewan McGregor will belt out his rendition of “Be Our Guest.” Instead, the film is making headlines because of Gaston’s goofy sidekick, LeFou — who has a crush on the handsome villain. The addition of a gay character to the tale as old as time has caused a theater in Alabama to announce they will not screen the film, while Russia’s culture ministry has given the film a 16+ rating.
Will any of this backlash from conservative audiences hurt Disney’s bottom line? Based on Disney’s recent box office numbers, not likely. Russia has not been a major source of revenue for Disney’s recent films. Take last year’s live-action remake, “The Jungle Book,” which made just over $600 million internationally as part of its $966 million global haul. Russia only accounted for roughly three percent of its overseas total, with a gross of $20 million. That total was exceeded by Mexico, Japan, India, France, Australia, the U.K., and China, the last of which contributed $150 million to the hit film’s massive total.
Then there’s Disney’s original animated entry, “Zootopia,” which grossed $39 million in Russia. That comprised five percent of the film’s $682-million overseas gross. (It topped $1 billion worldwide.)
And since Russians have not been all-out banned from seeing the film — as one lawmaker there unsuccessfully lobbied for — the lack of audience members there under the age of 16 represents a small deficit compared to what’s sizing up to be a massive overall box office return for the studio.
As for China, there is a chance that state censors may just cut out the “gay moment” for their audiences. But this past weekend at the box office proved that censorship won’t do much to keep Chinese moviegoers out of cinemas. The Chinese cut of “Logan” removed 14 minutes from the version American comic book fans saw this past weekend, citing ” violence, foul language and brief nudity.” That didn’t stop “Logan” from taking the No. 1 spot in the country, raking in $48.6 million as part of a $150 million overseas opening weekend.
While some conservative parents may decide not to take their kids to “Beauty and the Beast,” they will be far outnumbered by the fans around the world looking forward to seeing this new version of one of the most popular movies Disney has ever made. LeFou’s new crush on Gaston will likely be a minor — if nonexistant — speed bump en route to “Beauty and the Beast” joining “Zootopia” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in Disney’s collection of billion-dollar box office hits.