Disney delving into the live action forum shouldn’t come as a surprise. After the commercial success of Cinderella, The Jungle Book and even 101 Dalmatians with Glenn Close, Beauty and the Beast is the latest addition and remake based off the animated classic.
The question is, was a remake necessary?
“I want adventure in the great-wide somewhere, I wanted more than I can tell… For once in might be grand to have someone understand, I want so much more than they’ve got planned! ” – Belle
Here’s the thing about Beauty and the Beast…
It’s not bad but at the same time it’s not great either. It languishes in the middle in a fantastical dreamscape purgatory, unable to match its animated predecessor nor does anything to really distinguish itself from the original. It’s fundamentally safe, harmless and innocent in its fun but lacks the bravery to push the boundaries. Now that might sound harsh but that unfortunately is the risk you run when ambitiously making a live action version of a beloved and Oscar-nominated classic. Yours truly is a fan – I adore it and along with The Lion King, The Jungle Book and Aladdin, these films defined my Disney childhood.
Beauty and the Beast is a film that clearly knows it’s target audience. It’s not to say that it can’t be enjoyed by grown ups. There are parts of the film which I enjoyed immensely, tapping into my Disney sentimental nostalgia but it’s purposely designed and aimed at the younger generation, not burdened by the emotional connection with the original.
In all fairness, Beauty and the Beast does make some notable changes, almost “fixing” the problematic issues from the animation. The long theorised view that Beauty and the Beast deals with elements of Stockholm Syndrome with Belle sympathising with her captor, is subtly removed in the live action version. It builds more of a back story for Belle (Emma Watson) and Beast (Dan Stevens), giving them more of a balanced reason to fall in love. In fact the film goes a natural step further by providing context for every character. The magical curse as narrated in the beginning is expanded, explaining why none of the villagers knew about the castle. The castle itself is more like a haunted house, beautifully exploited by the comedic timing of Kevin Kline as Maurice. Belle comes off a little less snobbish, building more of the villager’s small and narrow-minded opinions. To counter that, Belle’s feminist bravery and independence is heightened – not just a lover of literature but makes a forward thinking impact by teaching others to read. She’s also an inventor, a creative decision switching from what was primarily known as her father’s profession. Even Maurice is toned down – less of a village idiot and more of a sentimental man who wishes better things for his daughter. The so-called and highly publicised “gay moment” – it’s 2017. It’s a fuss made over nothing for the smallest and briefest of scenes.
But here’s the downside of that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the new additions and whilst it’s wrong to keep comparing to the original, the changes extend the running time, occasionally disrupting the fast paced nature the original had. The included back story or increased screen time of certain characters means that Belle (who’s suppose to be the heartbeat and focus) is slightly overshadowed. This is in comparison to Luke Evans as Gaston who relished the creative freedom and fun theatricality from the role. While it’s a faithful ‘shot for shot’ remake, Beauty and the Beast spends far too much narrative time on “correcting” the imperfections from the original instead of standing on its own feet, something which Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book did so majestically.
But most importantly, these additions are drowned out by the very thing that made Beauty and the Beast so memorable – its music.
“Think of the one thing that you’ve always wanted. See it in your mind’s eye and feel it in your heart.” – Beast
It’s clear that director Bill Condon (Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 & 2, Gods and Monsters) wanted to bring a Broadway feel to Beauty and the Beast. This is not uncommon if you’ve seen Dreamgirls for example. His artistic vision means that everything about the production is spectacularly grand.
But ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is defined by its music. From ‘Belle’, ‘Gaston’, ‘Be Our Guest’ to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, these songs are iconic, virtually perfect in every way.
So why change that dynamic?
There’s a slight annoyance to be had when something as melodic is so unnecessarily extended for the big screen. Beautiful lyrics are drowned out by over the top additions of instruments to make it monumental. But that’s not the end of it – we’re introduced to new songs in the film. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it provides further context and character depth. But they’re not particularly memorable, falling under the weight of the recognisable songs that we know.
The film lacks a natural breathing room to make a true impact. The feeling of being overstuffed and bloated because of the crammed new additions really starts to hammer home in the latter parts of the film.
This is extended down to the heavy use of the visual effects. Beauty and the Beast adopts a realistic approach to characters in particular Beast and the household objects in the castle. Whilst this may sound contradictory given the fairy tale nature of the film but nothing felt real or defined, hard to make out the detail or expressions and harder for the audience to truly connect. It’s stuck in a compromised middle ground where it wants to be realistic but also wants to pay homage to the original. This indecisiveness means it doesn’t accomplish its intention and falls emotionally flat when the vibrancy is needed more.
There lies my problem with Beauty and the Beast.
It’s not to say that it’s not delightful. It’s not to say that it’s not enjoyable because it is watchable. All the actors are perfectly cast as their respected characters. But for all the magic and visual spectacle it lacks the subtle charm, heart and beauty from the superior original. It’s marvelled simplicity is overblown with gratuitous abundance – more orchestral music, more dancing, more singing, more dialogue, more back story, more CGI – more of everything! We’re spoiled, having too much of a good thing but forgetting why the original resonates with so many of us.
That’s the biggest shame out of this film. There’s nothing wrong in saying that Beauty and the Beast heavily relies on our sentimental memories of the original. The message is still the same – beauty is skin deep and don’t judge a book by its cover. But I expected more than just simple nostalgia.
Based off your own expectations, if you felt Beauty and the Beast was a missed opportunity, then I would agree.