Beauty and the Beast: The Other One

In 1991, Disney released a magnificent version of the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast”. Then they released another version.
| Sep 27, 2017 | 6 comments |

In 1991, Disney released a magnificent version of the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast”. Then they released another version.

Disney’s decision to remake Beauty and the Beast as a live-action film was always questionable for two reasons. One, the story is intrinsically suited to animation, and two, the original film is so close to perfection that it leaves little room for remaking. But all things are possible, and these hurdles might have been jumped.

One of the special powers of animation is that it can make things whimsical or agreeable that, realistically, are not. Beauty and the Beast needs this power, both for the Beast and his servants. The living household objects, rendered realistic in the new version, are all exquisite. They also have about an ounce of the charm and vibrancy of their animated counterparts. Worse, they make you think that it would be kind of creepy if your coffee cup had eyes and your dresser liked to pick out your outfits.

The change from animation to live-action would not matter so much – if more significant changes had deflected comparison. And here we come to the second pitfall, which the new Beauty and the Beast plunges right into: Why remake a movie that was already nearly perfect? To make it different – not necessarily better but different in a true and interesting way. That is the successful way to remake a great film. There are two ways to fail – make it too much the same and make it different in a bad way. Disney manages both.

Beauty and the Beast reproduces its predecessor’s plot, its songs, and its most iconic shots and scenes. To its credit, the film does innovate in smaller matters. To its discredit, it innovates badly. It reshuffles events and characterization in ways that are often puzzling and invariably damaging. Its original ideas are slight and usually poor.

The Beast is a much reduced figure in this second outing. He is less of a beast, for one: physically smaller, more tame in temperament, more human in appearance, lacking the mouth full of fangs and the animalistic power and agility of the old Beast. The first Beast literally roared; the second huffs and puffs. The first Beast had a violent, mercurial temper; the second is mostly just dyspeptic. The first Beast had sudden shifts into realization and regret; the second … no.

Gaston receives a kinder, gentler, and ultimately scrambled characterization. His buffoonery and presumption are sanded down significantly, and his worst moments in the first half of the film are excised. Then, as if suddenly in the throes of some psychotic break, he resorts to murder. After that, Gaston loses all initiative. His maneuver to clap Maurice into the insane asylum is no longer a sinister scheme to blackmail Belle into marriage; neither does he incite the mob against the Beast out of jealousy and offended pride. Both acts are merely defensive and desperate attempts to hide his crime.

The servants-turned-household-objects fare worst of all. Their warm (even enthusiastic!) welcome of Maurice is eliminated, and it matters because their welcome of Belle is so suspect. They adopt the peculiar habit of declaring selfish motivations for acts of apparent kindness. (Why does Lumiere – it’s not the Beast in this version – get Belle out of the dungeon? So he can kiss the maid again!) They sing “Be Our Guest” not because Belle wanders into the kitchen saying she’s hungry but because they realize she’s planning an escape. When Belle flees, doors slam and lock, the dog rears up and barks at her – it looks like a jail break, and they’re the prison guards. Incompetent ones, but still.

As for new ideas, Disney did decide to give Belle a shamelessly maudlin back story. The Beast has a sob story, too, and he and Belle bond over shared childhood trauma, and it’s all very dreary. Disney also anchors the story to a particular time and place, shifting it away from fairy tale and into history. Then it fumbles the history, and drops it, and steps on it. Disney clearly sends out the message, “This is eighteenth-century France! Btw, we have no idea what eighteen-century France was like, and we don’t care, either.”

The movie has its good points. The technical skill is obvious, and the film treats us to some beautiful vistas. The re-imagining of Maurice and Gaston has merit, whatever the flaws in execution. There is talent in the cast. But the new Beauty and the Beast is inevitably heir to the old one, and it neither breaks from its legacy nor upholds it. Fans of the movie say that there are many versions of Beauty and the Beast, and that’s true. But the precise trouble is that this movie is not a version of Beauty and the Beast, the fairy tale; it’s a version of Beauty and the Beast (1991) – and a worse one. Beauty and the Beast (2017) is so notably like Beauty and the Beast (1991), and yet so notably inferior, that there is hardly even a point.

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6 Comments on "Beauty and the Beast: The Other One"

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Rondi Olson
Guest

I totally agree. The 1991 version is my favorite movie of all time, close to perfection, which leaves the remake nothing more than a poor imitation.

R. J. Anderson
Member

I have had zero desire to see this film from the moment it was announced, because I could tell that they were going to do nothing original or interesting with it. And lo, it came to pass.

What I find saddest about the whole thing is that they even messed up Belle’s iconic gown, which should have been the dazzling showpiece of the entire movie. Here’s a great article explaining all the ways and reasons the remake got it wrong: http://costumevault.blogspot.ca/2017/06/burning-question-whats-wrong-with.html

I still dare to hope that someday, somebody will make a great live-action BatB film. But it’s obviously not going to be Disney.

notleia
Guest

Here to plug the earlier French movie “La Belle et la Bete” by Jean Cocteau. It was right after WWII and looks like it had the budget of three shoelaces and a plundered Shakespearean theater’s wardrobe, but it’s classic and creative.

In brief defense of the reboot, Dan Stevens is better looking than the prince the animated Beast turns into. That’s about all the defense I can work up.

notleia
Guest

ETA: https://youtu.be/syYCO0QVkZo

Film major does words about themes in B&B (Stockholm Syndrome, but also Want vs Need and what that means for whose story it really is)

Leanna
Guest

All this derision directed at the live-action movie makes me so very sad. I loved the movie. I was excited about it from the get go even as I did my best to keep neutral expectations as we got closer.
And I love animation as a medium and the original film is my favourite of the classic animated Disney.
And neither of those things kept me from loving the new film wholeheartedly. It is so beautiful! So simply and exquisitely beautiful. I loved how they gave it a closer tether to a specific age even if I think the white wigs and tights on men look stupid and that the harpsichord has a dreadfully tinny sound.

I’m not blind to all the movie’s flaws. They are just incapable of making me adore it any less. The backstory of Belle’s mother is maudlin and unnecessary and too much of her dialogue with her Dad ends up feeling very expository instead of real but the new song and MUSIC BOX balance it out for me (There is a place deep down in my soul that is so very satisfied by music boxes… such a combination of machinery and beauty!)

Adam really didn’t need sob backstory to explain why he was the beast. He was spoiled, selfish and unkind. Period. BUT I love Days in the Sun and the little boy who solos the opening has an incredible voice!

The attempted murder does come rather out of left field but the live action Gaston is just so much more interesting than the animated version and so very very well acted. (He’s also one of the few actors they don’t auto-tune – phew!)

I really wish they hadn’t auto-tuned the life out of Emma Watson’s voice. I enjoyed what I could hear of her voice, even next to Audra McDonald. Belle doesn’t need a powerhouse voice. She’s always the most human of the classic Disney princesses and to me it is more relatable if she can just carry a tune rather than be a magical songbird in human form.

I am also one hundred percent behind her decision to not wear a corset. (And I think corsets totally have their place, same as heels and heavy makeup) It fits so perfectly with Belle’s character. But the dance scene was always much more about the DANCING than about her ball gown in my mind anyway. Also Adam’s costume was gorgeous. If there was a decent version to buy on the internet I would get that coat for my husband in a heartbeat! 😀

Oh, and that scene on the bridge!!! I disagree in general with people who think Belle and Adam’s characters were lessened in the live-action (but I won’t argue the nitty gritty of that here) but how can anyone not love the aching beauty of that moment when Belle reads out loud of how creation is simply waiting to be woken out of winter’s sleep?

Anyhoo! I’ll stop rambling and fan-girling. o:) I’m sorry that the live action movie is such a blight for you. 🙁 I’d share the joy I experience in it with you if I could!

Princesselwen
Guest

I could write a lot to explain why I didn’t like this film, but I’ll just sum it up with one phrase:
“If it [wasn’t] broke[n], don’t fix it.”

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