Reboots, remakes and sequels come out all the time, and it is important for fans to consider the value of them. Disney fans, for example, should be skeptical of the company’s recent decision to film live-action remakes of a large slate of its popular animated films, which are largely understood to be classics.
Clearly, there is something financially remunerative to be found in this idea, with the 2015 Cinderella remake grossing over $200 million and the 2016 The Jungle Book remake grossing over $100 million more.
After questioning why, viewers must consider whether there is any reason, besides money, behind this year’s remake, Beauty and the Beast.
Beauty and the Beast tells a story of two outcasts falling in love. Belle, played by Emma Watson, is a bookworm surrounded by a mostly illiterate town of peasants.
The Beast, played by Dan Stevens, is a human who has been cursed to live in the body of a beast with only his enchanted furniture and other such home goods for company. The release is the newest of Disney’s live-action adaptations.
Fans of the original film who want an opportunity to revisit their favorite provincial French town or enchanted castle will not leave disappointed. Beat for beat, the film is nearly identical to the story of the 1991 animated classic.
Musical numbers return in great abundance and even costuming is directly adapted from the Disney source material. Even so, pulling a VHS or special edition DVD off a shelf to watch the same thing is not hard—there needs to be more to this.
The changes from and additions to the 1991 film are key points to be noted in the adaptation. While the original film existed in France to the point where a few characters had accents and one song was based around saying “Bonjour!” to greet people, the remake accentuates its French roots.
Before the Beast’s castle is enchanted, it resembles Versailles. Gaston, played by the wonderfully cast Luke Evans, is now a war hero. The mob storming the castle in the third act is reminiscent of scenes from the French Revolution.
The 2017 adaptation is very aware of the setting of the story. The studio logo is substituted with the Beast’s castle and instead of fading to black, the shot stays and is used as part of the storytelling process.
Shots pan from the castle over the forest and back to the town, giving a geographical contextualization of the play’s location. This helps the audience keep track of what is happening between the two or three concurrent plot lines, making the movie more easily understandable.
The soundtrack includes classics like “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston,” “The Mob Song” and “Beauty and the Beast,” as well as new songs. Doing this failed in the 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables, where the added song “Suddenly” was a waste of time. Adding on to an established song list is risky.
Kevin Kline’s “How Does a Moment Last Forever?” opens up the way for a subplot about Belle’s mother, something unexplored in the animated original. The additions of “Evermore,” a beautiful song of longing, and “Days in the Sun,” the touching refrain for a return to non-enchantment, are well-placed.
A crucial theme of the original film, looking beyond the surface, is well-adapted in the remake. Gaston is loved by the town and is in pursuit of his beloved Belle. His attempted wooing would fit in among the great romantic quests, until his dark side is shown.
The addition of the character of Agathe, the town spinster, gives the opportunity to see someone outcast and spurned because of being different. Belle, who is also different from the townspeople, is still accepted to some degree because of her beauty.
Belle resents the way she is described by her beauty. This is part of where her characterization shines. The film’s depiction of Belle disproves those who have often complained that the story is reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome, or when a prisoner falls in love with his or her captor.
Belle tricks her father into letting her take his place as the Beast’s prisoner. She also avoids idleness by trying to escape and, when a singing wardrobe covers her with a French aristocratic dress, she slips out of it and stays in her townsperson clothing.
However, there are still some problems in this film. For instance, there are moments of excessive cheesiness. The music, like Phil Collins’ music for the Disney animated film Tarzan, is at times too on the nose about exposition.
Sometimes, the characters feel dwarfed by the need to create grand moments of reference to the 1991 film.
The remake, though not necessary, finds purpose by adding a new dimension, besides leaving 2-D animation. Compassion is argued over beauty. Characters feel more rounded and real.
There is magic and fun to be had, for viewers of all ages. With everything new that is offered, Beauty and the Beast is fittingly adapted.