And once again, I dive into another remake of something special from my childhood. Beauty and the Beast (1991) was one of the very few Disney films that I owned when I was young but it was none the less special to me as I’m sure it was to many others. It is a story of forbidden love, much like Romeo and Juliet but with less teen angst and suicide. Nevertheless, upon seeing the remake, I am quite happy to report that it is a great experience. That’s because it is pretty much the same film.
The plot line is the same; the characters are the same, their general attitudes are the same, even the actors portraying the characters bare a striking resemblance to their animated counterparts. Of course there are some differences. This is live-action now so the characters have a physical presence in the world; the graphics are astounding which is what anyone would come to expect these days and some of the dialogue is different but in spirit, it is the same film. Now that I think about it, If I was going to do a remake of something that was already perfect on its own and didn’t need to be remade, I think I would do it in exactly the same way.
The only differences in terms of the actual main characters are that of Belle (Emma Watson) and her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline). Maurice is less of an eccentric inventor in this one and more of a haunted painter whilst Belle… Oh, Belle. I don’t know what it is but I don’t see the lovable quality that was in the original Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara), Instead this new Belle comes across as well… smug. I think this is less to do with the writing and more to do with Emma Watson because I see this in everything she’s in. Hermione was definitely smug in the Harry Potter films but I thought that was just her character. Now I see it all the time. She also has a problem with portraying emotions, particularly ‘happiness’ or ‘amazement’. Everybody remembers the marvellous musical number ‘Be Our Guest’ as sung by the flamboyant candelabra, Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and his backing dancers, the crockery. Well in the remake, it is certainly a lavish number that is spectacular and genuinely entertaining with fireworks and dancing plates but when the camera turns back to Belle, she just looks bored. She barely cracks a smile through the whole film, even in the happiest of moments such as the dance at the end when she has her handsome prince (Dan Stevens). Even then, she can only manage a smug smirk. I’m telling you, Belle and Gaston (Luke Evans) have more in common that she thinks. For one, they’re both arrogant. Gaston wants to marry Belle because she’s the most beautiful girl in the village and she must say yes because he’s just so hunky but Belle won’t have none of it because she’s a strong, independent woman who is so much more than a trophy wife and wouldn’t dream of marrying anyone who hasn’t read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and written an essay on it. Lo and behold, at the end of the film she becomes a princess where she’s waited on hand and foot, just like a strong, independent woman. Listen up honey, sometimes in life you have to take what you can get.
That’s Beauty, and now for the Beast. Dan Stevens definitely deserves a few awards for his performance as the Beast even if it was through CGI. To me, the Beast is the most interesting character who actually goes through an arc. He’s not the same at the start of the film as he is at the end. He must change to stop looking looking like a beast but has given up hope to the point where his enchanted staff have to set up a date for him, even if it is for their own benefit. Even though he looks like a beast, I don’t think he acts like one at the start. When we first see the Beast in full, it is after Maurice picks a rose for Belle and in retaliation, he just locks up Maurice instead of tearing him limb from limb which is what a truly monstrous beast would do. Even when Belle comes to rescue her father, he offers her a choice instead of tearing her limb from limb. I also think an effort could have been made to make the Beast look a little bit more monstrous. I’m not particularly horrified by his appearance, I think he looks cute.
In an effort to give the live-action characters a little bit more depth, the main characters where given a bit more of a back-story. There is a mystery surrounding what happened to Belle’s mother and it is revealed that her father took Belle away from her mother when they were living in Paris as her mother was about to die from the plague. The Beast is also fleshed out a bit more as his backstory involves his dad being a dick to him and raising him to the cold-hearted prince that ends up getting cursed. I’m not a fan of this addition as it means that the prince’s behaviour and the events leading up to the curse were not entirely his fault. I would prefer the prince be cold because that’s the way he his. That way there is a sense of belief that he has truly changed and grown and has gone through an arc. Gaston has also changed as in the original he was merely a well-skilled hunter but in the remake, he is made into a soldier who has just returned from war. It is also strongly hinted at that he might have PTSD, or that could just be my observation.
Just like the original, the remake is also a musical but it was not intended to be. With it originally drafted as a serious adaptation of the original film, the writers came to realise that it is not Beauty and the Beast without the songs, which was a smart move. Every favourite is in there but the ones that I would recommend not only for the songs themselves but also the visual appeal are the aforementioned ‘Be Our Guest’, Gaston and my personal favourite, Beauty and the Beast (Tale as Old as Time) which is played over the ballroom dance sequence between Belle and the Beast.
Aside from the characters mentioned above, returning for the remake are; Mrs Potts and Chip (Emma Thompson & Nathan Mack), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen), Gaston’s sidekick, Lafou (Josh Gad), Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). There are others but it’s a long list.
Despite this being an insanely popular film, given the box office revenues (which I will get to later), believe it or not, this film was not without it’s controversies. Director, Bill Condon revealed that there was a ‘gay moment’ in the film which sparked outrage across the internet. After having mountains of shit thrown at him for something that shouldn’t be an issue, do you know what that ‘gay moment’ turned out to be? Lafou briefly dances with one of Gaston’s friends at the end. That’s it. It’s not even shocking, I always assumed Lafou was gay. He clearly fancies Gaston, there’s a fine line between admiration and lust. I quite liked that little inclusion, as the scene was all about the coming together of all the townsfolk to create a happy and caring environment for all, where everyone can forget their differences and have a bit of a dance. What’s wrong with that? If anything, this tiny moment of a few seconds should be praised rather than be labelled a ‘controversy’.
For those of you with short attention spans, the title of this review reads, ‘A Good Film But Don’t Trust It’. And why shouldn’t you trust it? Well first off, it’s called ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Second, it made a lot of money and instantly showed it’s true colours. I’m sorry, did I say it made a lot of money? What I should have said was, it made an ABSOLUTE FUCK-TONNE OF MONEY!
With a budget of $160 million which is a modest amount for this day and age of fancy pants special effects which cost a pretty penny. In the short time since its release, Beauty and the Beast has taken in a jaw-dropping $1.2 BILLION. This amount of money makes the film not only the highest grossing film of 2017, but also the highest grossing live action musical and the 10th highest grossing film of all time.
Since watching this film last night and finding out all this information, I’ve been asking myself, how did this film make all that money? Well there’s the usual answers of, it’s backed by a big studio therefore had the best marketing opportunities, it’s got a lot of high profile stars in it to bring in fans from other films and franchises, it got a lot of attention with it’s ‘controversies’ but I suppose the best answer would be that it is Beauty and the Beast. It’s a recognisable name that already has a fan-base of kids who are now grown-ups. It’s the ‘Power Rangers’ argument except this one made some money. However, with the Power Rangers there was room for things to be changed and the story could be taken in a new direction. Not so much with Beauty and the Beast. Nothing has been changed that dampens the spirit of the original and sticks so close to the original that no one was offended by it, not even me. The truth is that it was always going to make a lot of money, simply because of the title.
A cynical person might ask me that if the characters are the same, the songs are the same, the atmosphere is the same and it’s overall the same experience, then why does this film exist? And my cynical response would be, ‘It made $1.2 Billion’.