Disney set itself up for disappointment in their most recent live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s been 25 years since the original animated version was released to theaters and apparently they felt it was time to add this beloved “tale as old as time,” to their growing list of remade classics.
The potential was there for something truly special to be produced, but the film crumbles under the weight of high expectations. Instead, one of the most magical films in Disney history is reduced to a shadow of its former self, a less inspired facsimile that makes you long for the magic of the original.
Building off the success of its most recent live-action remakes such as “Cinderella,” “Alice In Wonderland” and “The Jungle Book,” Disney seems to have leaped at the chance to include “Beauty and the Beast” to their growing list. The metamorphasis can be a stunning achievement as with “The Jungle Book,” a testament to the company’s adept use of CGI. With “Beauty and the Beast,” however, the challenge to create something remarkable is significantly greater. Why? Because the film is an icon.
The story, for those who missed out in 1991, follows the classic French fairy tale about a young prince, whose vanity and cruelty brings a curse upon him and anyone living in the castle. He must remain a beast forever unless he learns to love and earn love in return. All hope appears lost until Belle, a headstrong girl from the local village rescues her father and takes his place in the Beast’s enchanted castle. With the help of his loyal household staff, all of which have been turned into household items, the Beast must win the heart of his prisoner.
After its release, the animated “Beauty and the Beast” became an instant classic. Not only did it win a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, it also was the first animation to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. And, in 2002 it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being culturally and historically significant.
That’s enough history, but the point is this classic tale was a breakthrough for Disney that defined love and sacrifice for an entire generation of kids. It comes as little wonder then that the odds would be stacked against the cast and crew in a remake.
The movie’s biggest flaw is its lack of originality. The film is a nearly exact replica of the animated version with a few minor changes to the script, as well as the very much undesired addition of a couple new songs. By mimicking the 1991 version shot-for-shot, director Bill Condon sets up an inevitable comparison between new and old in which the original will always win.
Moreover, watching a movie that’s basically the same as the first is, well, boring. Nothing about the latest version feels new except for the fact that our 2-D characters are now 3-D.
Some of the most authentic moments of the film were in fact, when the screenwriters dared to veer from the original script, but these were too few and far between to make enough impact.
This imitation game seemed to be felt by cast members as well. Despite the energy brought by the peripheral characters (Luke Evans is brilliant as Gaston), Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as Beast, appeared restricted to the preordained roles. Left without room to make the characters their own, their performances feel more stiff than whimsical. While Watson at least looks the part of Belle, Stevens comical Fabio-esque wig makes the big reveal more disappointing than surprising.
Despite the welcomed addition of a few contextual details Disney writers seem to be stuck in a rut of reworking past successes. The new “Beauty and the Beast” could have benefited from additional imagination that would have breathed new life into such a beloved story.
Ultimately the film will appeal to children and their parents, who will enjoy the colorful theatricality of the live-action drama. However, don’t substitute the latest version for the original — at times the animated characters feel more real than their live counterparts.