It’s a very tricky thing, taking an animated classic and remaking it as a live-action feature. Updating the story and characters to something more “modern” can be quite difficult. Changing the narrative around can open up room to create a deeper, more complex tale than the original was able to tell.
The results of that can vary somewhat. Alice in Wonderland gained a more cohesive story about fear, love, and walking to the beat of your own drum, but had some difficulty balancing the more serious and the more ridiculous aspects of its story. While I enjoyed much of Maleficent, it felt like they couldn’t comprehend empowering a female character without hating on men in some way. Cinderella gave the main characters, and therefore their relationships, greater depths, which I personally loved. As for the recent Jungle Book, it blended both the animated classic with the original tale to create a brand new one, a phenomenal masterpiece, though one that scarcely had any actual “live action” in it. (side-note there… why bother calling the eventual Lion King remake a “live action” remake at all?)
Out of all of these, Beauty and the Beast was probably in the single worst and most precarious position of all. That is, quite simply, because it’s decades younger than the rest. It reaps all the benefits of Disney’s renaissance, and hasn’t had time to suffer the drawbacks of aging in a changing society. How much room is there, really, for adding something new to this tale? Add to that how iconic the movie is, especially with the music, and the whatever wiggle room there might have been becomes increasingly confining.
Basically, Beauty and the Beast had a severe uphill battle to fight.
So, how did they do?
There were a few things left to be desired, but they generally did a good job, in my opinion.
Probably the worst thing they did was to try and imitate the original animated version so much. Every other remake thus far has emphasized original content to the point where it barely resembles the original. Beauty and the Beast, by contrast, largely parrots the original, with just a few modifications and original additions. That holds true for the dialogue, the scenes, the plot, the characters, the humor, and the soundtrack, both lyrical and musical. As a result, it alternates very quickly between “stale and awkward” on the one hand, and “genuine and fresh” on the other. The gags, for instance, were much better when they were original to this film instead of repetitions of gags from the animated version.
Speaking in particular about the music, it often felt misplaced, especially when they basically copied and pasted the original soundtrack onto scenes that were anything but identical. The original songs are great, but they’re also meant for children to be able to sing with ease. The changes to some lyrics was disconcerting, and the sudden change to more operatic songs was jarring. The movie felt burdened with these two radically different styles of music shoehorned together, and far too much singing overall. Good grief, I wanted to scream at the screen, just pick one style and stick with it!
As for what they did right, the best was, undoubtedly, Belle and the Beast. Both were given some backstory to explain how they became who they are, and they are surprisingly similar in some ways. One of the most common criticisms of the original version is the Stockholm argument, and they address that, to make it more like Belle and the Beast are coming to a meeting of the minds despite a significantly awful first meeting. They did have to jump through some odd hoops to achieve this, but they successfully add more… character to these two central characters.
More middling than that, they also gave some greater complexity to the characters and personal journeys of Maurice and LeFou, as well as the egotistical malice of Gaston. In Maurice’s case, it gave his character more to do, providing an explanation for what he was doing during Belle’s time in the castle. In LeFou’s case, it made him less of a lick-spittle, but also even more of a tool, which left his reformation at the climax a little out of place for how quickly it happens. As for Gaston, though, he was both entertaining and malicious, but also visibly more unstable, which left me wondering why the villagers kept listening to him when what he said wasn’t true kept getting proven as true.
As for the rest of the main cast, the servants who became household items, they more added tweaks to the characters’ history – like taking the wardrobe’s one operatic moment in the original and making her an opera singer this time around, or making chip a young boy who uses the plate he is on like a skateboard – but especially emphasized the pain they feel at their transformation and impending doom. They really do have great affection for each other, and that is the only reason they are able to endure their torment.
Which goes into a major theme of this movie, concerning punishment for one’s misdeeds. In both versions of the story, the Beast and Gaston are both guilty of unthinking cruelty. This version explains how cruel life was to the Beast, and deepens Gaston’s true evil. It also shows the shallow, small-mindedness of the villagers as they try to suppress Belle’s spirit. But, hands down, the cruelest of them all is the enchantress who created the curse.
For one, single offense, she turned a man into a monster and consigned his servants, man, woman, child, and even animal alike, to a fate which is arguably worse than death. Not only does she turn them into household items, she leaves them to die slowly, painfully, and alone, having wiped all memory of them from everyone in the village, even their dearest loved ones.
That is pretty messed up, if you ask me, and yet she is never made to answer for it. Who is she, anyway, to do that to them? That is a question left unanswered, which is somewhat frustrating in a movie that provided so many other answers that fans of the animated film have asked.
One last thing worth addressing is how Disney advertised featuring their first openly gay couple on screen. Let’s not mince words, Disney has clearly displayed a liberal agenda in some of their content, here and elsewhere. They are, after all, owned by liberals. However, the scenes centering on their homosexual tendencies come and go very quickly, leaving little ground for liberal preaching to stand on. While I do believe Disney did intend to give this cinematic recognition to the homosexual part of the audience, the hostile backlash the movie received even before it hit theaters was largely unjustified, and I have little patience for such criticism from people who haven’t even seen the movie. Having one single detail I disagree with is not enough for me to crucify the entire feature, ya know?
To wrap this up:
Overall, I found Beauty and the Beast to be an enjoyable, enchanting tale, albeit with a few missteps here and there.
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.