Friday, April 14, 2017

Beauty or the Beast: Which is better, the original or the remake?

The second weirdest thing in the world is the fact that Disney is remaking its animated classics as live action films. They remade Beauty & the Beast. Perhaps you've heard about it? It got a little bit of press when it came out.

How does it compare to the original?

The Live action Beauty and the Beast reminds me of nothing so much as the director’s cut of Aliens.

Yeah, that Aliens

The theatrical release of Aliens was a taut action thriller with some inexplicable decisions by its protagonist. The director’s cut explains those choices (Ripley went back after Newt because her own daughter died when she was in suspended animation) but at the expense of the pacing. It’s rather uneven and herky-jerky compared to the claustrophobic horror of the original.

Which one is better?

If you had asked me twenty years ago, I would have said the theatrical cut.

If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have said the director’s cut.

If you ask me today, I’ll say I don’t know. They scratch different itches.

I wrote about the original Beauty and the Beast here when we saw it in 3D. It was a classic, but one with some huge plot holes and some seriously problematic elements.

It would seem that in adapting the film, the creators sat down with a list of every criticism ever leveled against Beauty and the Beast and resolved to address every single one of them.

Issue: Belle is kind of a whiny jerk.

Solution: They made her less of a whiny jerk. Look, I like Belle. But in the original, she is literally stepping over people who are doing their chores while singing her song about how she has nothing to do. As the Offspring tells us, it’s cool to hate. (I hate a lot of things/I hate a lot of people that are lame/I like to hate stuff/cause then I don’t to have to try to make a change.) Hey, Belle, your dad goes to invention fairs. Maybe you want to check that out? Look, I grew up in a small redneck town and I didn’t have a lot in common with the people around me, but I didn’t spend all my time telling them how much they suck.

Issue: The Beast was transformed for a decision he made as an eleven-year-old boy.

Solution: They aged him up.

Issue: Belle falls in love with her captor

Solution: They twist themselves in knots to justify this, and really, they’re only halfway successful. Maurice wasn’t arrested for trespassing; he was arrested for stealing a rose. The Beast gives Belle a chance to say goodbye to him, but she locks herself in the castle tower instead. That’s great, but it’s a symbolic act, as I’m pretty sure the Beast has a key. It’s still his call to allow her to take her father’s place. The Beast comes off looking a little better, but it’s so clearly an after the fact justification that I have difficulty accepting it at face value, and the fact of the matter is that she’s still his prisoner.

Issue: We don’t know how Belle’s mom died.

Solution: They explain it in excruciating detail.  We get an explanation of what happened to Belle's mother, but who gives a shit? She's dead when the story begins and how it happened is outside the scope of the story. Are we going to get an extra special edition in twenty years where Cogsworth shoots first and we have an extended flashback to Maurice’s apprenticeship as a junkyard slave?

Issue: LeFou is ambiguously gay.

Solution: LeFou is not ambiguously gay.  To the extent that I thought about it at all, I always figured that the animated LeFou was sublimating his feelings of attraction towards Gaston into a form that his society would accept. I’m not saying that this was what they intended, but I do think it’s a valid read. Listen to the song he sings about Gaston.

Issue: The unconscious Beast is too heavy for Belle to lift him on the horse.

Solution: More than any other change, this infuriated me.  It’s done so gracelessly. The Beast is unconscious and nearly dead after defending Belle from the wolves. Belle kneels down and says, “You have to stand up for me.”  I can not imagine a less elegant solution.  I’m surprised he didn’t mug for the camera.

Issue: It sure was shitty of the Enchantress to punish the staff for the Prince’s actions.

Solution: Mrs. Potts explains that they ARE to blame, because they didn’t raise the prince to be a better man. Weak. I just don’t think they were in that position to effect that kind of change.

 Issue: Not every inanimate object in the castle was once a human

Solution: Talk about a solution in search of a problem. Apparently, some people at the internet looked at the wreckage in the west wing and decided that those chairs were a bunch of transformed servants the prince murdered. I always figured that they were just chairs. That was the case, but Lumiere spells it out specifically after Belle tries to make friends with a hairbrush.

Stuff they didn’t address:

Wolves rarely attack people. When Jen and I were first dating, we watched this on VHS. When the wolves attacked, Jen remarked, “What a negative portrayal of a predator species.” Maybe they’re magical wolves, but since nobody explained to me at great length that they were magical wolves, they’re probably not.

Mrs. Potts is too old to have a child Chip’s age. They lampshade this when someone takes him for her grandson, and I suppose it’s possible that’s the case. Emma Thompson is only 57 and it’s possible she could have a child Chip’s age, if unlikely. I think a more probable explanation is that she’s raising her grandchild as her own because something happened to Chip’s parents.

Bottom Line: Jen and Lily loved it, but I prefer the original. It was very nearly perfect, but it had some problems. They fixed the problems, but without addressing the rest of the narrative and watching the movie felt like looking a wall where someone had plastered over a hole. It's just as conspicuous as what it's intended to conceal.

Despite my gripes here, I don't think it's bad at all. New songs were solid and it captures the essence of the story admirably. I think it's close enough to the original that any choice will come down to a matter of personal preference and I happen to prefer the original.


  1. The original was better. While we also liked the live action remake/reimagining we still felt it had issues. A major one for me was the cgi characters as they tended to push into uncanny valley territory, especially Beast. I found his aesthetic revolting in closeup but acceptable at a distance.

    1. CG Grand Moff Tarkin would like a word with you, Beast. He finds your aesthetic revolting.