Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Disney remaking their animated classics in live action seems to have become a thing, and with no end in sight. I can’t really say I see the point, and this is the first one I’ve seen. Well, okay, I guess you could count Maleficent and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which I have seen, but those were really more adaptations than remakes; they had common elements but didn’t tell quite the same story. But 2015 saw a remade Cinderella, and it looks like they’re remaking progressively newer films. Cinderella was sixty-five years old at the time of the remake, The Jungle Book forty-nine years, and Beauty a mere twenty-six. Mulan, its live-action remake slated for next year, will be only twenty. And I think they’ll be releasing the animated and live-action Gigantic at the same time. No, I’ve actually heard they’re going back again for the next few. It seems like one of the points in doing this is to iron out inconsistencies in the original films, or at least that’s the a side effect. Indeed, adding back story and filling plot holes was a major part of this new Beauty. The animated film said that the beast spell would become permanent on the prince’s twenty-first birthday, ten years after the enchantment. Simple math has shown that this means the enchantress cursed an eleven-year-old boy for not letting a strange woman into his home. The remake not only fudges the exact time period, but suggests that the enchanted castle is in a magical stasis, always in winter and with no one ever aging. There’s still a time limit that’s fast approaching, but nobody seems to know the exact figure, which makes more sense. There was also more development in Belle’s relationship with the Beast, and she knew that he was originally human before the end, removing the more problematic aspects of her falling in love with (from her perspective) an animal. The weird line about Chip getting into a cupboard with his brothers and sisters was cut as well, a good thing as the original implication seemed to be that Mrs. Potts had a whole lot of children but only ever talked to one of them. There were also some details added in that didn’t affect the story that much one way or the other, like the revelation that Belle’s mother died of the plague, Gaston having fought in a war (and enjoyed it, apparently), and the Beast being incredibly agile. LeFou being gay counts in this category, although at least there they did it to try to increase representation.
Of course, you can question whether making the villain’s stupid, clumsy sidekick gay (or I guess REVEALING his sexuality is a more accurate way to put it, as it wasn’t addressed at all in the animated movie) was really GOOD representation, but it was helped a little by giving him more agency and not playing him as quite as much of a slapstick character. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t decide Cogsworth was gay, especially considering that he was played by gay actors in both versions. But no, he’s reunited with his wife at the end, much to his chagrin. Which brings me to another change, that of the townspeople (or at least most of them) recognizing the inhabitants of the castle after they were disenchanted.
Some changes were definitely for the worse. They cut out two of the funniest lines from the original, the Beast saying he looked “stupid” and Gaston’s “Every last inch of me’s covered in hair.”
Gaston was also made more blatantly evil. I think the cartoon showed him gradually developing from a rude guy with an ego problem to more of a straight-up villain. In the remake, he ties Maurice to a tree and leaves him for the wolves fairly early on, even before he tries to have him committed to an asylum as part of a scheme to marry Belle. I also thought it was weird that, after Maurice is rescued, the townspeople initially seem to believe that Gaston tried to have him killed, but then Gaston just changes their minds without much of a reason. True, Maurice didn’t have evidence, but it still seemed abrupt. For that matter, it appeared that everyone other than LeFou wasn’t immediately so eager to praise Gaston, and had to be coaxed into it. This could have just been a joke on how spontaneous singalongs don’t really make sense, but they came across as a little more reluctant. This attitude change could have contributed to how LeFou eventually decides on his own to turn against Gaston.
And I’m not sure how to take the scene where the Beast uses a magic book to transport himself and Belle to her old home in Paris, which apparently hadn’t been touched in the time it took her to grow up.
The only way I can really rationalize it is to say that it was an illusion rather than reality, albeit an illusion from which Belle could take an object.
For the most part, the performances and visuals were very good, although there were obviously things they couldn’t do so well with the format. The Beast couldn’t be quite as big or imposing, for instance, although I think he still worked. A more pressing concern were the enchanted servants, a significant part of the Disney version who weren’t in the traditional tale. Well, that might not be entirely true; there was a 1978 written adaptation by Robin McKinley that apparently contains moving dishes and candelabras. If Disney got the idea from McKinley, they never credited or paid him, and he figured a lawsuit would be pointless. Regardless, they were obviously designed with animation in mind, and looked a little bizarre in live action mixed with computer graphics.
I did get used to most of them over the course of the film, but not so much with Mrs. Potts. Who thought that would be a good design for her?
Another design choice worth noting was how the aristocrats and their servants tended to have powdered wigs and painted faces, which based on some Google searching seems to have been the style in France from the seventeenth century until the end of the nineteenth, largely inspired by King Louis XIII wearing a wig when he started to lose his hair. While the story has many antecedents, the most famous version is the allegedly overly long and tedious novel (I’ve never tried to read it) written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, first published in 1740, and I believe she did give it a contemporary setting. So that checks out, I guess. Mari Ness’s review of this story points out how the Beast is said to have a harpsichord. Maybe that’s why one of the enchanted objects in this new film was a harpsichord, who was in fact married to the wardrobe. I always find it interesting when new takes on old stories incorporate references like this, which can also be seen in Belle asking for a rose from her father when he went off on his journey.
So, was this adaptation necessary? I would say not; the animated film still totally stands on its own. That said, it was well-made, and despite some significant missteps, still enjoyable to watch.