I really and truly love Disney. I completely understand people’s jaded complaints about the company and their products, but I’m a total sucker for them. They’ve perfected the formula for fairy tales, changing the way that fables and archetypal stories. But that doesn’t mean that I implicity trust every decision that they make. And one of the company’s decisions that I’ve been most on the fence about has been this recent rash of remakes they’ve been creating based on their beloved animated films. It seems like they’re huge successes, and it genuinely feels like not a day goes by that they don’t announce a new live-action remake being helmed by a completely out of left field director. I’m still not on board with this trend, even though so far they’ve been more or less successful. Pete’s Dragon so far has been the film that I’ve appreciated the most, because they took a story and did something completely new with it, creating a beautiful and fascinating film on the foundation of something familiar. Jungle Book played more closely to the source material, but managed to justify its existence by becoming a technical marvel and adding some new and more effective plot elements. Cinderella is the weakest of the series, since it’s basically just a shot-for-shot remake of the animated film, adding nothing new to the table except for the brilliant casting of Cate Blanchett as the villain. But the title of least necessary remake may have a new winner. Because while the latest remake, Beauty and the Beast, is still a very sweet story that I enjoyed, it doesn’t exactly need to exist.
I wasn’t quite sure what this film was going to do with its source material, but after Pete’s Dragon I didn’t really expect for it to literally just be the animated film. The plots are virtually identical, save for a couple small changes and additions. We open up with a quick explanation of a sorceress cursing a French prince and all of the staff of his castle, punishing them for the prince’s hubris. And once that’s taken care of we head into a local town and begin following a young woman named Belle who feels stifled and misunderstood among these simple-minded villagers. She spends most of her time reading and trying to better herself while avoiding the advances of local douchebag Gaston. However, her world is thrown upside down one day when her father heads off to sell some of his creations in a nearby town, and gets lost in the woods. He stumbles around, trying to find a way back to the market, and ends up coming across the blighted area of the forest that the castle of the prince lies in. Maurice wanders up to the castle, hoping to find someone to help him, and he comes face to face with a castle full of objects that are alive. He’s horrified at this, and flees from the castle, but stops to take a rose from the grounds, as a gift for Belle, where he’s caught by the Beast and imprisoned. Maurice’s horse makes his way back to the village, and Belle realizes that something is wrong. The horse then leads Belle back to the castle, where she comes across her father in the dungeon, and meets the Beast. She’s obviously horrified, but tries to barter with him, offering to stay in the castle so that her father can be freed. Maurice rejects this trade, but Belle tricks him, and stays in the cell, sending her father back to the village to get help.
And this is where things start to get really crazy for Belle. She’s freed from her cell by some of the Beast’s servants, who are now living as objects. She meets Lumiere the candelabra, Cogsworth the clock, Mrs. Potts the teapot, her son Chip the cup, Maestro Cadenza the harpsichord, and Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe. The servants try to make Belle’s stay in the castle pleasant, and try to get her to believe that the Beast isn’t as bad as he seems. But Belle is still horrified at her situation, despite how kind the servants are, and she ends up fleeing into the night. However, she’s stopped by some angry wolves and is saved by the Beast, who is hurt in the process. She brings the Beast back to the castle, and helps the servants tend to him. She and the Beast then start to bond over their love of literature and knowledge, and actually begin to become friends. The servants start to get excited, knowing that the only way to break the spell that’s upon them is to have the Beast learn to love, and have someone love him, and this certainly seems to be their best shot. And, gradually, a love starts to blossom. The two spend a lot of time together, reading and talking about the world. The Beast even shows Belle a magic book in his library which transports her to the house she was born in, finally learning the truth about her mother’s death. However, after a nice night together spent dancing, the Beast shows Belle a magic mirror to check in on her father. And what she sees is Gaston and the townsfolk harassing Maurice for his crazy accusations. Beast then immediately tells her she should leave and save her father, and she rides off into the night, saving Maurice from an asylum. However, to do so she had to reveal the truth about the Beast, which instantly convinces Gaston and the townspeople that they need to go kill him. Belle and Maurice are temporarily locked up so they don’t meddle with the murder, but they escape and catch up with the townspeople. And things aren’t going well for them. The servants are attacking the townspeople, terrifying them with their magical appearances. But it all comes down to Gaston and Beast, who are fighting on the parapets of the castle. Belle shows up at the last minute to save Beast, who still gets shot by Gaston. Gaston end up falling to his death, and the Beast doesn’t seem far behind him. The Beast appears to die, causing all of the servants to completely turn into inanimate objects. But Belle tells the Beast that she loves him, and the enchantress, who had been living in Belle’s town all these years, uses her magic to bring everyone back to life, turns them back into people, and repairs the castle. Everything then returns to normal, and Belle marries the man who was once the Beast, and they live happily ever after.
I want to start by saying some good things about this movie. Because I’ve seen a lot of negativity towards it on the internet. Some of which is justified, but also seems to ignore some of the positives the movie has going for it. The film really knocked it out of the park with the casting of this film, giving just about every character the perfect contemporary actor to take over the role. I don’t think there was a single character that I didn’t enjoy, some of whom actually put in what I could argue as better performances. There are a handful of songs that weren’t in the original film, most of which are quite enjoyable. I actually think the film did a better job explaining the love blossoming between Belle and the Beast, actually giving them some chemistry and shared interests. But the real draw to this film is just how beautiful it is. This movie has lavish set and costume design, and truly has a memorable look to it. It’s a gorgeous looking movie, full of bright and colorful musical numbers that hearken back to a type of musical that just doesn’t get made anymore. The musical numbers had some delightful choreography that utilized some of the same tricks that La La Land mastered last year, giving us a musical that felt classic and new at the same time. Hell, they even had some crazy Busby Berkely inspired dance sequences with the servants, giving this film some insane and lavish visuals.
But the actual film behind these visuals was more than a little unnecessary. This is literally just a live-action adaptation of the animated series, one that really doesn’t do anything to differentiate itself from its predecessor. There are some small differences, like the magic book that essentially functions like a Tardis, but all of those differences are extremely minor. This film uses all of the same songs as the original, with a couple new additions, and it was pretty shocking how incredibly similar this film was. It was practically reaching the level of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake, which isn’t exactly high-praise. It’s certainly an odd feeling watching a remake of a movie that came out within my lifetime. I’m very used to seeing reboots of things from my lifetime, hell I’ve seen three different Spider-Man series’ since I was in high-school. But it’s a very weird feeling to see Hollywood decide that it’s been long enough to remake a cartoon that I grew up watching, and that came out the year my little brother was born. I’m older than a movie that’s getting remade for a new generation, and that’s a weird feeling. But what’s even weirder is there’s really no need for it. You can argue all day about the necessity of remakes in general, but one like this really seems strange to me. Other than the fact that it’s shot in live-action, I don’t see the reason for this movie to exist. They did nothing new with it, not really, and at its base it’s just the exact same movie. Which isn’t necessarily bad, because the movie that it’s leaning on is a good story. So, by extension, this is also a good story. But the baggage that it has to deal with hold it back from being anything special. These Disney remakes are going to have to do something special with the stories to justify themselves as anything more than a cash-grab, and unfortunately this one didn’t accomplish that. Maybe next time will be better.
Beauty and the Beast was written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, directed by Bill Condon, and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2017.