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With Disney’s promotional machinery running full tilt and the masses apparently caring little about the inclusion of a gay character, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ arrived to an astounding $170 million in ticket sales at North American theaters over the weekend. That total broke multiple Hollywood records, including one set last year by ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ for the biggest March opening.

And talk about princess power: ‘Beauty and the Beast’, an old-fashioned musical that mixes live-action scenes with fully digital characters, collected an additional $180 million overseas, placing the movie on a path toward $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales by the end of its run, analysts said. The film cost roughly $300 million to make and market.

“The world is a pretty cynical place right now, and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ gave audiences an opportunity to go back to a time of innocence,” Greg Foster, chief executive of IMAX’s filmed entertainment, said by phone Sunday. He added that the turnout also reflected nostalgia for Disney’s 1991 animated version of the fairy tale and the generational appeal of Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the ‘Harry Potter’ series), who plays Belle in the new version.

About 60 percent of the domestic audience was female. Notably for a PG-rated movie, extra-large-screen theaters like those operated by IMAX were packed.

The blockbuster opening validates Disney’s decision to remake its classic animated films as live-action event movies, something that has rankled some critics. (New versions of ‘Dumbo’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Mulan’ and ‘The Lion King’, among others, are on the way.) The turnout also reflects the expert manner in which Disney keeps characters alive over time. After the animated ‘Beauty and the Beast’ went dormant in the 1990s, the company’s Broadway division picked up the baton, tending a fan base with a hit musical.

‘Beauty and the Beast’, directed by Bill Condon, also benefited from strong reviews. And Mr. Condon amplified some of the fairy tale’s themes to broaden its appeal beyond families. Yes, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ features a crooning candelabra and a talking teapot. But the movie also is about looking past outer appearances to find inner beauty. It shows how the ostracism of someone who is different can feed anger and resentment. Judgmental, ill-informed villagers with pitchforks reflect the current state of social media.

One of Mr. Condon’s decisions — to make the comic sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) a gay character — prompted a media uproar before the film’s release, with some conservatives expressing outrage online and politicians in countries like Russia and Malaysia joining in. The ruckus appeared to have little to no impact on the results. About 84 percent of American parents who saw ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on its opening day said they would ‘definitely’ recommend it for families, according to PostTrak, a polling service run by comScore and Screen Engine.

Disney — by focusing almost exclusively on four movie brands (Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar) and using its theme parks, merchandising division and television networks as marketing bullhorns — has lately left the rest of Hollywood in the dust. Last year, it had five movies that collected $300 million or more at the domestic box office; none of its Hollywood competitors had more than two.

And the Disney run, orchestrated by Alan Horn, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, is expected to continue. The coming months will bring sequels in the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” ‘Cars’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, ‘Thor’ and ‘Star Wars’ series. “I’m trying to find a way to put this in a way that doesn’t sound gushy, but there is no way,” Mr. Foster said. “In my 30 years in this industry — gulp — I have never seen a studio on a roll like this.”

The New York Times

Directed by Bill Condon

Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman

Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos

Starring
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson

Running time 129 minutes

Budget $160 million

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