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Remakes and reboots are an established phenomenon at this juncture. As much as film can be an artistic medium, so too is it largely beholden to the whims of capitalism and the quest for box office success. When patterns begin to form, sometimes they are easily recognizable; such as every studio’s desire to create a “shared universe” in the wake of 2012’s The Avengers. Other patterns develop with a degree of subtlety, creating a lens with which to view a certain era of time. Patterns may also develop within a sort of microcosm, in an isolated environment divorced from the whole. Disney has of late taken to adapting their animated classics into live-action films, an initiative that can be traced back to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland directed by Tim Burton.
Since that time, we have seen adaptations of Sleeping Beauty in the revisionist Maleficent, Cinderella in 2015, with The Jungle book and Pete’s Dragon rounding out 2016. Spring of this year sees the release of Beauty and the Beast, whose original animated counterpart marked a turning point in the history of animation and of Disney as a company. The train is still rolling as casting has just begun for Aladdin, news recently broke that Mulan is moving forward but will not be a musical and it has been reported that James Earl Jones will reprise his role as the voice of Mufasa in a live action version of The Lion King.
While these adaptations have hitherto been moderate to extreme box office heavyweights, the lingering critical question upon the release of each subsequent film has been whether the studio is doing anything with the new versions of the film to justify their existence beyond the revenue they generate. Does translating these classic animated films into a live action film bring anything to the table that wasn’t there in the original version?
Focusing solely on the latest film in the lineup, it feels as if Disney has for the first time put an emphasis on injecting something new into the narrative for the sake of justifying its own existence. The script’s portrayal of Belle, here portrayed as the creative/inventive genius in her father’s workshop, seems hell-bent on making strides to correct the perception that the character is simply a bookworm suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. The script moves a few steps further by feeling the need to give Belle her own “tragic backstory,” perhaps to put her in the same company as Lily James’ Cinderella. This would not be obtrusive, had the script not felt the need to do the same for Beast, giving a kind of justification for his decision to turn away the enchantress that places the curse upon his home.
Wanting to provide depth to a character is not usually a tick mark in the negative column. However, this adaptation does not provide enough attention to this subplot for it to carry enough weight. In the end, it feels like padding; largely unnecessary in most regards. Some minor additions to the script actually do work, such as the addition of Beast’s third-act solo following Belle’s departure or LeFou’s eventual about-face in his relationship with Gaston.
The 2017 Beauty and the Beast is a good film, though it is not a great one. Part of the reason for this is simply that the original on which it is based succeeds in just about every regard where the remake falters. It is somewhat disappointing, but if you look at the patterns, it is not all that unsurprising.