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"The Beast Within: The Tale of Beauty's Prince" puts a "Wicked"-ly entertaining twist on Disney's "... tale as old as time."

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"The Beast Within: The Tale of Beauty's Prince" puts a "Wicked"-ly entertaining twist on Disney's "... tale as old as time."

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So what did you think of "Maleficent" ? This past weekend, that Robert Stromberg film blew through the $200-million-in-domestic-ticket-sales barrier. Which makes this Walt Disney Pictures a blockbuster by modern Hollywood standards. That -- coupled with the $383.7 million that "Maleficent" has earned overseas to date -- means that this reimagining of "Sleeping Beauty" will ultimately be a very profitable enterprise for the Mouse.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Me personally, I enjoyed "Maleficent." But then again -- I have a fondness for "Wicked" -like stories like this. Which take a tale or a character that you thought you already knew and then put a new twist on it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is why -- when I heard that Serena Valentino had written a new book for Disney Press -- I immediately asked to be sent a review copy. For those of you who don't remember: Serena wrote "Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen" (Disney Press, August 2009). And that 256-page hardcover put a pretty sinister spin on the story of Snow White. Not to mention that the twist at the very end of this book suggested -- long before "Once Upon a Time" debuted on ABC -- that Snow & Prince Charming weren't actually going to have a very "Happily Ever After."

(L to R) Josh Dallas as Prince Charming & Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White on ABC's
"Once Upon a Time." Copyright American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved

So when I heard that Valentino was going to bump out the borders of Disney's "Beauty & the Beast," reveal what really happened to the Prince prior to Belle's arrival at the castle ... Well, I just had to get my hands on this 224-page hardcover.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And I'm glad to report that "The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince" (Disney Press, July 2014) does not disappoint. While Serena's take on this " ... tale as old as time" remains firmly rooted in the world of that Academy Award-winning animated feature from 1991, she does find some fun ways to put some new twists on this story.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Like what? Well, could you ever imagine a world where the Beast & Gaston could have once been childhood chums? Or that the Prince might have had a prior romantic history with the beautiful enchantress who cursed him? Or that Ursula the Sea Witch from Disney's "The Little Mermaid" could make a cameo appearance in this story?

The enchanted objects from NETworks Presentations, LLC's touring production of
Disney's "Beauty & the Beast." Photo by Joan Marcus. All rights reserved

Valentino does all this and more. Better than that, none of "The Beast Within" is forced. The story that Serena has crafted here all seems like a natural, organic outgrowth of Linda Woolverton's original screenplay for the film. Valentino even manages to fold in elements of the Broadway version of "Beauty & the Beast" (i.e., that the curse moves slowly. That the Prince & his loyal servants aren't all magically transformed at once. That these changes all happened slowly over a number of years).

(L to R) Kristin Chenowith as Galinda & Idina Menzel as Elphaba in "Wicked."
Photo by Joan Marcus. All rights reserved

So you just can't wait for that live-action remake of Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" that the Company announced just last month (which -- just in case you're wondering -- will make use of songs from both the animated film as well as the Broadway musical), then you would be well advised to pick up a copy of "The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty's Prince." Which puts a "Wicked"-ly entertaining twist on Disney's " ... tale as old as time."

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  • While I am thrilled that it is in black, and still has a couple of markets to go, home sales and general merch; I am not sure I would say "very profitable". Yes, $60 - $100m profit from the box office is a lot of money, but that's after taking a $250m risk in the first place which we have unfortunately seen backfire more than succeed in recent years with JCM and Lone Ranger. At the box office Maleficent has made about the same amount of money (straight figures, not inflation adjusted) for the company as Dangerous Minds did back in the 90s; but Dangerous Minds was only risking $40 - $50m to begin with rather than 5 times that amount. Surely if you are going to risk 5 times the amount and risk not recouping that at the box office at all (ala JCM and LR) then you should be looking to make bigger amount of money (ala POTC4, Avengers or Iron Man 3); otherwise you may as well take far smaller risks, make much smaller budget movies and end up with a similar figure at the bottom of the balance sheet.  The chances of Maleficent making a billion were tiny (Wicked itself stands a chance, but not this), so why did it have a billion dollar box office budget to begin with? Especially with Disney owning ILM now, shouldn't all the special effects be done at cost? Or when we see a Disney budget nowadays, should we be taking it all with a grain of salt because in actuality, large sums of money for special effects has just been moved from one division of Disney, to another, and on a company bottom line level hasn't cost that much to make at all.

    As for doing the same again for Beast, I can see that; but I really hope they do this for a few and infrequently. As much as I love Wicked, I do not want to see the treatment given to every Disney villain until there aren't any true villains left to please this fad; just lots of misunderstood people who princesses caught at the wrong time. I don't mind backstory, just don't always make them sympathetic or the hero.

  • The prince had a relationship with the enchantress?  Wasn't he eleven when he was cursed (ten years before his twenty-first birthday)??

  • I have yet to see Maleficent, but if it is as bad as  "Once Upon a Time", then there is no hope. Some reviews are very bad for Maleficent although Angelina Jolie was widely praised for her performance. All I can say about the "The Beast Within" is perhaps they should stop before going too far. New live action film versions of the Disney animated classics should not be made wholesale. It cheapens the products. Although I thought Disney lost an opportunity when other studios jumped to make the live action "Snow White" in two incarnations with Julia Roberts in one and Kristen Stewart in the other from the villans perspective.

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