Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast really does highlight how well they can just print money at this point. They’ve always had an incredibly marketable brand for young girls with their various Disney princess films, then with the more recent purchases of Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm came a clear push to bring on board the young male demographic. But now with live action remakes of Cinderella, Maleficent, The Jungle Book and the upcoming Mulan, Aladdin and The Lion King, they really are just printing money. Because money. And also because they’re Disney, but mostly because money. That said, I didn’t mind this at all. Let’s discuss.
Disney is treading that careful line between bringing on board new material so Beauty and the Beast feels new and refreshing, without straying too far from the original to keep that nostalgia money flowing in. For the most part, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Chicago) and the team at Disney manage to do a pretty bang up job. Attention to detail with even minor things like moths flying out of the wardrobe, or the snowball fight between Belle and the Beast execute precisely on the blocking of the 1991 animated film, and to the keen-eyed fan, that’s very much appreciated.
The changes from the 1991 Beauty and the Beast were, for the most part, welcome additions. Belle’s fondness for reading becomes a more pertinent point about educating young girls. Unlike in the animated film, where Belle’s farther was an inventor, here we see Belle utilising various contraptions that actually work, as opposed to her father inventing various gadgets that never quite manage to hit their mark. Furthermore, the character development was expanded upon significantly, (some that isn’t able to be referenced without spoilers), but the Beast in particular is now a well-read, scholarly equal for Belle to have intellectual conversations with, not just to find elements of humanity behind his beastly appearance.
The core concept and moral ethos of Beauty and the Beast was also fleshed out in other ways. Valuing beauty, materialistic possessions and a certain lifestyle was highlighted at the beginning much more that the animated version, not just for the prince, but for the townspeople as well. Therefore, the transformation into these various household objects and material possessions had a greater depth and meaning, particularly when paired with Gaston’s values. This all puts at the forefront a more poignant statement about materialism than the 1991 animated film put forward.
That said, there are a few particular gripes with the piece, most of which have to do with minor, nit-picking comparisons with the 1991 animated version, and little bits from that I felt were lacking. The addition of new songs didn’t take me out of the piece, and I felt they aided in the story-telling, with the exception of Audra McDonald’s operatic moment right at the start. Now, if six time Tony award winning Audra McDonald is in your musical, she better be singing. That said, when inserting new songs and arraignments into such a beloved classic, maybe the very beginning isn’t the best place to put new material? Bringing me to my second gripe – music is such an intrinsic factor when highlighting and building upon nostalgia, and 1991’s Beauty and the Beast has such an iconic piano melody featured mostly at the beginning, but resounding throughout. Now whilst it was present in the 2017 live action film, it wasn’t nearly as prominent as in the 1991 version. Instead, what the live action remake did have, was lots and lots of harpsicord (for those unfamiliar with what a harpsicord is, it’s the thing that looks like a piano, but sounds all scratchy instead. Played by Stanley Tucci in this film). A harpsicord is a very distinct sound that was not present in the 1991 animated film, and quite frankly took me out of the moment every time it was played. Now I know Disney is going for a more authentic period piece move here, but that really didn’t work for me, especially when a simple piano was featured so prominently in the original. It just left me asking, “why?”
Finally, my last point of contention with regards to the departure from the original, the final fight between Gaston and the Beast (I guess spoilers? If you haven’t seen the animated classic? But if you haven’t what are you doing reading this? Go watch that!) The fight on the castle rooftops between Gaston and the Beast in Disney’s 1991 animated classic stays with me. It’s iconic. I know what’s happening, and it still send chills down my spine. It’s a dark castle, in torrential rain – wait, THAT’S what was missing from the 2017 live action version, why was there no rain? That fight for me, was pretty “meh”, through no fault of the actors, I honestly think Luke Evans as Gaston was great, and Dan Stevens in particular was spectacular, but this scene was really quits sub-par compared to the original. I mean, if you’ve seen the live action version, look it up. Look it up the original fight between Gaston and The Beast right now, and tell me that isn’t epic on a whole other level, and that torrential rain throughout wouldn’t have made that a much more climatic event. Really.
But since I mentioned the cast, I do want to highlight that I thought this film was spectacularly cast, from Emma Watson as Belle, to Josh Gad as LeFou, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thomson as Mrs Potts, Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, but most of all, Dan Stevens as the Beast. This cast is by no means lacking in talent or tenacity, but both Stevens and Evans are standouts.
Finally, Beauty and the Beast’s design elements are definitely worth mentioning. From the set design, to the costumes, to the makeup, CGI figures and overall production design, this is a marvel to look at. Visually, the film is stunning, and takes a lot of cues from the animated version, whilst also taking liberties with the translations into live action. I particularly enjoyed the castle’s crumbling bellows with each delicate fall of a petal, and yes, Belle’s ball gown, indeed that entire ballroom scene, really does take your breath away.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast is worth a watch, if you want something to do. It’s not something I’m rushing out to see, it wasn’t quite as riveting as Disney’s live action remake of say, The Jungle Book, but it won’t disappoint. Go in with mediocre expectations, and you’ll have a decent enough time.