Warning: Potential spoilers below.
It can’t possibly match the Disney animated classic, but this new live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” is still a worthy remake.
The 1991 original is about as honored as an animated film gets. It was the first animated film to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and a mere decade later was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. It was a huge critical and commercial success.
Messing with a much-loved classic brings enormous risk. The first question is: “why bother?” Making a live action version of something that worked brilliantly animated is hardly justification enough unless all you care about is the box office bottom line. If it’s going to be a slavish imitation, what’s the aesthetic point? It inevitably will be compared note for note to the original and could easily be found wanting.
And secondly, does it have anything to say that wasn’t already said perfectly the first time around? Can it offer something new without being so radically different that it risks alienating its core audience?
Disney and director Bill Condon aim for that very delicate balance between new and familiar, and it hits and misses in equal measure.
Let’s start with the “not too bad.” For example, our heroine Belle’s opening scene and song in the new film is pretty close to the original. And the visuals are remarkably similar too. This establishing scene doesn’t score many points for originality or inspiration, but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the original must be very flattered.
Let’s call this comparison a draw.
Now we’ll move from a neutral re-creation to a bad re-do, or least to a re-creation that doesn’t measure up to the original, the blowhard villain Gaston. The animated Gaston cuts a bigger-than-life figure and in the wittiest song in the film, his toady Le Fou sings of his master’s exploits, until Gaston himself joins in on the bragging.
In the new version, the clever lyrics are muddied and Gaston’s voice simply can’t compare. Try as he might, Luke Evans just can’t compete with his cartoon counterpart.
A YouTube video offers a comparison of the two songs. The video can be found here.
If this was typical of how the entire movie compared, this remake should never have been made.
But happily, the live-action version actually improves on its predecessor in one key scene, and because that key scene is the dramatic climax of the film, it more than justifies the movie.
As the fairy tale goes, when the last rose petal falls, the Beast will have lost his last chance at redemption. He will never regain his human form and instead will forever be a beast.
That spell also holds true for all his servants who’ve been turned into inanimate objects like a candelabra, a clock, a teapot, and a feather duster.
This new version does a great job of revealing the pathos of these objects recognizing, with dread, that their human lives are, indeed, about to be lost forever as well. This poignant moment doesn’t register much at all in the original.
And this is just preliminary to an even more moving moment about to come, a moment whose resonance is also missing from the original.
Both films, of course, have the same happy ending: the Beast and all the servants eventually regain their humanity. In the original version, that transformation is standard stuff, everyone is turned into generic animated versions of people.
But in the live-action take, it’s a much more powerful transformation because these inanimate objects not only turn into real flesh and blood actors, they turn into very recognizable actors. Most everyone will recognize these actors and that drives home the potential loss of their humanity all the more.