What was the film that originally got the Disney executives salivating over live action adaptations? Was it Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland? Was it that dreadful 101 Dalmatians film from 1996 with Glenn Close? Surely it wasn’t Maleficent or Cinderella.
Whatever the answer, at some point in the early 2010s they smelt a weakness in the world’s movie-going population, and they decided they’d rather cripple their own reputation for creativity than let it go unexploited.
That weakness was nostalgia, and the executives’ investment has been richly rewarded so far. Only four films released last year made more money than Disney’s Jungle Book adaptation, and it’s looking as if that success might be matched by the new Beauty and the Beast, which was released last month.
If I was to draw up a list of the animated films most desperately in need of a live action adaptation, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast would be unlikely to be included. It’s one of the most beloved films in the entire Disney roster, and it was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture award at the Oscars. When it was announced, the live action remake felt not only unnecessary, but almost blasphemous. For a lot of people, this film has a lot to prove.
Of course, you know the story already – it’s a tale as old as time. Or, seeing as the most recognizable version was first published in 1756, it’s at least a tale as old as Mozart. Prince becomes Beast, Beast kidnaps girl’s dad, girl rescues dad, girl falls in love with Beast, plates dance in a chorus line. Most of us have a rough idea of how it goes, so what does this new film add?
Well, the cynical part of me would argue that it adds a hell of a lot of money to the bank balance of Walt Disney Pictures – nearly $900 million at time of writing – and not much else. And the cynical part of me would find that fairly easy to argue.
Live action allows the producers to show off the mega-famous movie star box office draws who are usually hidden behind an animated face (who goes to the cinema to hear a famous voice?) while being different enough to justify the remake, all tempting people out to the pictures.
In the case of this film, however, the decision to go live-action has given us the unfortunate spectacle of a strangely ‘off’-looking uncanny-valley Beast strutting around his unnervingly bannisterless castle, speaking with the inexplicable voice of Dumbledore. The sentient ornaments have lost all of the cartoony charm of their predecessors, meaning an equally visually spectacular ‘Be Our Guest’ nevertheless lacks the showstopping fun of the original.
Not even Emma Watson, who essentially made her name with her ability to convincingly look at things that aren’t actually there, can save it. During that particular scene, which I was looking forward to as a fan of The Best Song in Any Disney Film, Belle sits watching what is surely the most impressive and ridiculous thing she has ever seen with a smile that suggests she is posing for a school photograph.
Much has been made of the new film’s apparent ‘gay subplot’ between the characters of LeFou and Gaston. This admirable decision to include a section of society that has been conspicuously absent from previous Disney films was met with the imposition of an adults-only rating in Russia, and so I was keen to see how they handled it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t shake the sense that Josh Gad’s LeFou was a little bit… Smithers. You’ll see what I mean if you go to see the film.
So what could be done to improve it? If the filmmakers were serious about creating a more fun, brave and necessary reboot of Beauty and the Beast, maybe they could have gone for a gender-flip.
Imagine a bookish but handsome young man who decides to save his father from a hideous female monster – let’s say a gorgon, or some sort of hairy troll. He gets imprisoned in his dad’s place, but he finally falls in love with her after realising that she is really quite beautiful on the inside. And all this while he is trying to fight off the advances of a buxom but shallow woman from the village.
This would offer a fun twist on the ‘you can find love no matter how ugly you are, as long as you’re a guy’ moral, which you can find in tons of films anyway. It might also speak to another bunch of people who have been pretty marginalised by Disney up to this point: girls and women who maybe aren’t as attractive as society says they should be.
Perhaps the woman in the row in front of me wouldn’t have decided to check her Instagram halfway through the film if she’d been watching that movie instead.
Just a thought. Anyway, the new Beauty and the Beast doesn’t offer any kind of new angle on the story, nor does it really improve on anything at all. You’re better off looking for the original.
Beauty and the Beast is playing at the Macrobert until April 13. Times and ticket information can be found here.