Reboots and remakes. Hollywood loves them and we flock to see them. There is something about the human psyche that wants to see something they know and love in a new coat of paint. But what makes a film worthy of a remake? In my mind, it’s an idea that has potential but leaves a lot of room for improvement. A great example would be Ocean’s Eleven. The original film was really just a vehicle for the Rat Pack to hang out and act cool in Vegas. But the idea of a group of thieves pulling of a casino heist was good, and the 2001 remake was pulled off with all the suave that the 1960 original had but with a better, tighter story and a more interesting cast of characters. Now compare that to Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Pshyco. While kind of interesting in a “hey look we made literally the same movie” kind of way, it ultimately adds nothing new and is just an exercise in futility. There is literally no reason for it to exist. Which brings us to Beauty and the Beast, the latest in Disney’s live action versions of their old animated classics. Does it bring enough new ideas to the table to warrant its existence or is it just Disney using nostalgia to make a quick buck?
There’s no need to go into the basic plot, as we are talking about a remake of a very famous twenty six year old movie (and a story that is much older than that, dating all the way back to 1740). So let’s talk changes. Two big things the media was making a big deal out of before the film released was the newly empowered feminist Belle (she’s an inventor!) and the sexuality of LeFou. And honestly, neither plays any significant part on the progression of the story. While Belle is in fact shown to be more intelligent than the average village dweller here (instead of us just hearing about it via song), outside of the opening, that ingenuity never rears its head again. The air of Stockholm Syndrome is lessened a bit in this version, mainly due to the fact that they have made the Beast well read and intelligent. But falling for your captor because they have things in common with you is still falls under the definition. And making Lefou a homosexual is such a nonissue that anyone offended by the two seconds of screen time it gets should get tied to a tree and left to the wolves. Grow the fuck up people.
The other big changes are hit and miss. The adding of a backstory about Belle’s mother drags the story down unnecessarily, while making Gaston a bit more evil (and LeFou having more to do than just comic relief) works. Some of the other changes in characterization I don’t think worked as well, from turning Maurice from an eccentric old man into just a plain old father, to the pushing of Cogsworth off to the side. It is odd to see Disney actively remove charm in this new version. There are also a few reversions back to the original French tale that Disney handled better in their first retelling.
One thing this version has going for it is the all-star voice cast. Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, and Ewan McGregor all lend their voices to our favorite enchanted household (castlehold?) objects. I was actually surprised to see that Ewan McGregor could sing, he holds his own on “Be Our Guest,” though one may need to retitle the song “Emma Watson’s awkward reactions in front of a green screen.” Which brings us to the two leads, Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Stevens generally does a fine job as the refined version of the Beast—his facial expressions captured very well by the motion capture technology—but does lack some of the oomph that made the ferocious animated version of the character so intimidating. He comes off more wounded puppy than pissed off curse-ridden animal. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I don’t think Emma faired nearly as well as her beastly counterpart. When she is pitted up against actual actors she seems much more in her element, but as soon as she’s in front of that green screen her performance becomes stilted and uneven. I get that acting with nothing there can be tough, but that’s the reality of big budget films these days.
For as many small changes that they made, Beauty and the Beast is still a slave to its source material. From shots to entire scenes being ripped straight from the animated version, 2017’s Beauty doesn’t quite find its own leg to stand on. The tale is the same, but the extensive reliance on nostalgia ends up hurting it. The Disney faithful will eat it up. But for everyone else? If you’re already very familiar with the original, it’s hard to call this a must see. It’s passable entertainment, though ultimately unnecessary. But if there’s one thing Disney has become good at, it’s cashing in on nostalgia (see also The Force Awakens), so I have no doubt that this will be an unmitigated success. Which means we’ll probably get another six live action remakes greenlit this year. Oh boy.