Stuff I’ve Seen: Beauty and the Beast

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while now, ever since I saw it last week. Opinions are a bit divided about this Disney remake, and I find myself a bit puzzled over it, for reasons I’ll get to later on.  First off, is it any good? Is it worth watching?

Yes. And Yes. If you like the animated version the only reason you won’t like this version I think is if you think it’s a complete waste of time because we already have the original.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Aside from being the same story I think it does a number of things better, and a few things not quite as good. Gaston is actually more sympathetic a villain in this version–at least to start with. The humanity he’s given early on actually works against it when he turns later on.

The relationship between Belle and Beast is better fleshed out, as is the relationship between Belle and her father. Hell, even the Enchantress who is only mentioned in the narration is better developed. What they add to the story is often for the better.

I actually found one of its weakest points being where it tried to recreate the magic of the animated version’s “Be Our Guest” – trying to recreate the surreal overblown stage show just doesn’t work as well in the live action setting.

Overall, I’d say I enjoyed it almost as much as the animated version, with advantages and disadvantages to be found in each, but that leads me to my key concern: Is it necessary?

Traditionally movie reviewers always try to ask this question about remakes. If nothing else, just remaking a movie is intellectually lazy. You have to bring something new to the table. And unlike other recent Disney remakes, like Cinderella and the Jungle Book, one can argue this brings comparatively little new to the story. Cinderella and the Jungle Book both improved on their Disney source material quite a bit. Beauty and the Beast is mostly the same movie.

However. It’s also not the same movie. It’s a different medium. It’s live action instead of animation (or, if you prefer, live action with CGI animation). I didn’t start going to actual theatrical productions until I moved to London, where I quickly grew to love the experience a stage production offered.

And I’ve seen certain productions done several times. Avenue Q I saw on three different stages with three different casts, two in London, on in Vancouver.  The Producers I’ve seen in three different forms as well. The 39 Steps I’ve seen done twice.

What makes it worth re-watching is in part because it’s NOT the same show, even if it’s the same script.  The choices the actors make, the director makes, it all has an impact on what you ultimately see on the stage.  I first saw Avenue Q on a big West End stage, and most recently saw it on a tiny Granville Island stage. I was really curious to see how they handled certain set pieces that were massive on the London stage on the much smaller Vancouver version.

So in the end I have to give Beauty and the Beast a pass on this front.  What kept me interested in watching it, even though it was the same tale as old as time, was seeing how they would handle things at every stage.  What would they add? What would they subtract? How would they translate certain events from animation to live action and how well would it work?

Of course where the analogy breaks down when you consider that a live performance is fleeting, temporary. What you see will never be again.  So you want to go back to see your favorites when you can, to try and recapture that. What’s on film goes to Blu-Ray and gets special editions released every few years.

What’s on film goes to Blu-Ray and gets special editions released every few years.

I really did enjoy this adaptation, but at the same time I hope it doesn’t become a habit. The last thing we need is going down the path of Gus Van Sant, doing another shot-for-shot remake of a classic.

 

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