I do like Disney films, but when I say “before this review that I’d only seen Beauty and the Beast once before”, I know it will shock many readers! This movie is the darling of a lot of people I know.
However, even though I’d only seen it once, I did remember the moment! I saw it in the cinema, back in 1991, I think it was a friend’s birthday. For whatever reason, like most Disney films (except Sleeping Beauty, Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood) I didn’t feel the need to watch it again… for twenty-six years.
So I guess I have the 2017 remake to thank for inspiring me to watch it again. But I am not letting it go that easily, this is a remake, and comparison is justified!
(I would also also like to stress I don’t write these reviews at the same time; I review the films after I watch them individually. However, I obviously watch the original first).
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
What a gorgeous and unique Disney movie this is.
When an inventor is imprisoned within a cursed castle, his daughter Belle goes to rescue him. But upon doing so she is trapped herself, and slowly learns of the castle’s mysteries and its prince; a man under a monstrous spell.
1991’s Beauty and the Beast walked away with two Academy Awards (for Original Score and Best Original Song) as well as the Golden Globes for the same awards but also for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) and for me, as much as I love 1992’s Aladdin, I would say Beauty and the Beast marks the end of the classic Disney era. What do I mean by that? Everything afterwards had a distinctly angular animation style, as well as an assortment of pop culture references or contemporary humour. This film however is heavily entrenched in the fairy tale, storybook formula that Disney-of-old relished in.
The film’s greatest ingredients have got to be its three primary characters: the Beast, Belle and Gaston. They have such great layering and complexity for Disney characters. Belle may be “the girl wanting more from life” but we learn early on in the film that she is no fool; she sees straight through the narcissistic showboating Gaston instantly. She even bravely rescues her father from a monster, opposes Gaston at every turn and defends those she cares about from adversity. The Beast is a fantastic mix of incredible rage, sadness and childish stubbornness and reluctance. He is a great comedic foil with his assortment of servants-turned-household objects, a scary monster with a lovable buffoon inside. While Gaston… he has comedic yet surprisingly human motivations for his actions; he isn’t powered by magic or gadgets, he’s just a thick-skulled jock. The perfect villain for such an intelligent girl and her sensitive love interest.
The film is lovingly animated. The castle is both grand and full of foreboding, the servants are lively and charmingly designed. Who doesn’t love Lumiere? In fact there’s a lot of evidence of inspiration from Disney’s third cinematic event in 1940, Fantasia. What with the living mops cleaning the castle to the fantastical dining song with Lumiere where plates and dinnerware fly around creating patterns and abstract motions. The film even includes one of Disney’s first CGI interventions (technically The Great Mouse Detective‘s clock sequence was first) the ambitiously grand ballroom scene. It is all very colourful and exciting.
The songs, even for me and my lack of enthusiasm for musicals, are all enjoyable and very memorable! Even the villain’s song, which often in Disney is a point of contention, is very entertaining. I can absolutely see why the Academy and others awarded the film so highly.
Belle and The Beast’s relationship is great too. With Belle’s incarceration answering the question as to “why she doesn’t run away”, the two are forced to mingle and interact, making for great comedic and dramatic chemistry as the story continues.
There is one point that sticks out amongst this chemistry and excitable pacing, upon the beginning of the final act, the tone radically shifts as the plot is forced to escalate suddenly. It isn’t bad, and it gives us a great climax, but it is a tremendous gearshift in pacing for a film that’s only eighty-four minutes long.
Beauty and the Beast is a gorgeous film and I hate myself a little for abandoning it for over two decades. But it remains true to itself, in that I had fond memories for all those years and it has withstood the test of time.
Additional Marshmallows: Did you know, Walt Disney tried unsuccessfully to adapt the story of Beauty and the Beast all the way back in the 1930s and 50s?
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Maybe if this was released in 1991 it would have been a smash hit. Oh wait, it was.
A selfish prince is cursed into the form of a beast, and his castle’s servants turned into animate objects, but when a girl enters the castle looking for her lost father, there is hope to lift the curse.
Disney’s insistence to churn out these live-action remakes of their most popular animated features is proving extremely divisive, but they really do bring in the money.
People do take comfort in the familiar…
I feel bad for children who might experience this interpretation of the story first, and it gives evidence of exactly what’s wrong with remaking things. Especially when the original is a priceless gem with little to no flaws. Disney, and director Bill Condon, clearly knew “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Indeed, Condon has literally remade Beauty and the Beast, only not as well. Congratulations?
2017’s film benefits, like a leech, on the memories of the original movie. To like this movie is to reaffirm love for the original: Oh, this song! I love this song. I refuse to recognise they have replaced a talented Broadway singer for an auto-tuned Emma Watson. Oh, I love this opening song in the village. Oh, because it is shot-for-shot exactly the same as the original?
Sure, okay. Die hard fans will lap this up. You can let it wash over you and make you all nostalgic for a faultless Academy Award winning Disney film that still exists. There are improvements. Such as Kevin Kline as Belle’s father Maurice, Josh Gad (as a decidedly subtle homosexual LeFou, calm down people) and the introduction of the film are good choices. But these are only good because they buck the film’s dogged insistence on following the original’s personality exactly. The ending too is surprisingly darker (yet without changing anything).
But for everything good, there’s plenty wrong.
Primarily is one new addition to the plot. The Enchantress that cursed the prince, asides from giving him the magic mirror to show him the outside world to torment him also gives him a magic book. A book that allows the one holding the book to teleport anywhere in the world. This becomes a expositionary device, which I was okay with. But later when Belle is forced to flee the castle to rescue her father (as the original plot demands) in such as hurry as to not change from her ballroom dress, she rides off on her horse. Desperate and maybe too late!
You have a book that can literally take you there instantaneously.
There are many other issues, but none as apparent and seemingly narrow-minded as that. It usually boils down to pacing and screenplay structure, which simply aren’t as tight as the original, dragging scenes out with padding. A couple of extra songs that reek of “we haven’t had a song in a while”. Or surreal moments with Belle or Beast’s internalisations about one another (in the original) now being sung aloud when in blatant earshot of each other? What?
No, the sets aren’t bad and are lavishly detailed, the servants designs are intricate and creative, the idea that the castle is crumpling as the rose wilts is great. But everything feels so passionless and empty, following the stage directions of an existing classic to the letter.
A film that takes a cherished and award worthy experience and thinks it can do better, without doing anything new with it and simply running with people’s nostalgia.
Additional Marshmallows: Am I grumpy old man? I can tell you that a bunch of kids in the showing I was in (a sold out Saturday on release weekend) were bored out of their skulls. They were probably the same age I was when I watched the original in 1991.