By: Mark Farmer, Entertainment Writer
Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast opened in theaters this past weekend, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as Belle and the Beast respectively. A live-action remake of the 1991 animated film of the same name, the plot follows a young woman who encounters a Beast living in an enchanted castle. Cursed by an enchantress for mistreating both herself and his servants, the prince was transformed into a beast until someone could somehow manage to fall in love with him.
Ever since the success of Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland, Disney has found continued interest in spawning more live-action remakes of their original animated classics. With 2015’s Cinderella and 2016’s The Jungle Book each earning high marks from critics and high box-office earnings from audiences, as well as loosely-based adaptations like Alice Through the Looking Glass and Maleficent earning similarly high revenues, it’s clear that Disney has found a successful way to recycle old brands. Considering the alternative implemented by ex-Disney EO Michael Eisner in the mid-1990s- that is, quickly churning out poorly-written direct-to-DVD sequels of famous Disney animated features -it’s clear that these live-action remakes are the better option. They retain the integrity of the brand (instead of tarnishing it with poorly thought-out sequels) while simultaneously allowing Disney to bring back old franchises and rake in the dough. It’s a great way to expand upon Disney’s fairy-tale adaptations that inherently lack depth.
Sequels or re-imaginings are difficult for these stories as the characters were literally created hundreds of years ago for children to easily digest their moral message. There’s nowhere for these characters to go after they exit the story (which is why most of Disney’s direct-to-DVD spin-offs fared so poorly). So, what purpose does Condon’s remake serve, in this case?
The answer is a smoother, deeper plot for Beauty and the Beast. Writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos take this opportunity to fill many of the plot holes which are simply glossed over in the original film. What happened to Belle’s mom? Why exactly does the town find Belle “odd?” Whatever happened to that enchantress, anyway? And exactly how many servants did the same Beast have for there to be hundreds of enchanted napkins? Animated features can pretty much ignore all of these plot holes- The emphasis is on the color, the music, and the main characters; Audiences are much more willing to only seek out what they are shown. Live-action movies are much more clearly realistic, meaning viewers will be more likely to notice when things aren’t quite right- This is when they start asking questions and seeking answers.
So, Chbosky and Spiliotopoulos iron these problems out. Now, Chip is an only-child- Not stuffed in a cupboard of hundreds of forgotten siblings. LeFou has become an actual character, with added depth and relationships. Both Belle and the Beast lost their mothers at a young age and have a love for literature, further hammering in exactly why they [spoiler alert] fall in love later in the movie. Because the original 1991 film is animated (and because it’s not even 90 minutes long), these issues don’t really need to be addressed- The plot is so concise and moves so fast that they aren’t really worth visiting. But this year’s Beauty and the Beast has a wholly different audience- Kids who want to be entertained and adults who want to revisit an old classic. This, plus its’ live-action setting, means this added depth is a necessity.
Apart from these plot revisions, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is a very faithful adaptation of the original 1991 feature. Most of its basic story structure is untouched, while the same characters exist to serve the same purposes. More importantly, nearly all of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s famous songs return nearly unchanged (with Alan Menken returning to score this remake). New songs also dot the film, many of which are adapted from Menken’s Beauty and the Beast musical from 1994. These new songs aren’t nearly as striking as the originals (excluding “Evermore,” which I quite liked), but, just like the reworked plot, they serve to further broaden the range of the characters- A welcome addition to the film.
The only other change in this remake worth noting is a more appropriate cultural representation of modern society. That is, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast features a much wider array of ethnicities and backgrounds in both its cast and its characters. LeFou is more obviously gay than he was in the 1991 original, and even the warden of the local mental asylum is shown to be considerably less evil than he was in the previous iteration of the story. While many viewers (or, apparently, whole countries) may brush these changes off as unnecessary and distracting, it’s truly quite the opposite- Audiences, honestly, won’t know that they’re being shown a more accurate portrayal of what American culture is like unless they’re looking for it in this remake. So much more of the movie is unchanged that these small differences won’t bother the average viewer- But they make a big difference to the people who feel represented by this remake of a classic film.
With all that said, what exactly is the end result? Condon crafts a deeper, more interesting story for the Disney animated classic, while retaining what truly set it apart from other features of its time; It’s a love letter to fans of the original film. In this regard, it is an absolute success. That said, it’s simply not as colorful and vivid as the original- One of the film’s biggest drawbacks. Kids are undoubtedly going to be more interested in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast rather than this remake, which, unfortunately, is a huge part of its target audience. In this case, the film simply doesn’t hold a candle (no pun intended) to the version that came before it. While it won’t outshine its 1991 counterpart, Beauty and the Beast is a very worthy companion to the original animated classic- One that builds upon its predecessor in nearly every regard.