While Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are the true tentpoles of Disney’s movie empire, there’s still something to be said for the studio’s live-action reboot machine. It started with the Kenneth Branagh-led Cinderella in 2015, was followed by a stellar remake of The Jungle Book the next year, and now, continues with Beauty and the Beast. On paper, the idea to put out a live-action reboot of every classic Disney movie seems like an ill-advised cash-grab. But we’ll be damned if it hasn’t given us some shockingly well-made movies in the process.
In the case of Beauty and the Beast, we have a film that goes a long way toward amending many of the major issues in the original animated film. Some fixes are as simple as amending small story points that didn’t follow logically. Others still, add some much-needed depth to a handful of major characters. The sum total: A film that more than justifies its existence as a remake, and stands on its own as a true pleasure to watch.
1. Visually, Beauty and the Beast is nothing short of incredible
If there’s been one common thread among all of Disney’s live-action remakes, it’s been that they’re all visual treats. Beauty and the Beast may very well take the cake though, shot entirely in IMAX and making full use of its 18th century France locale. The film boasts a stunning backdrop that fully indulges in the aesthetics of the era, from the bright, lavish castle, down to the intricate design of the furniture. Suffice it to say, a whole lot of TLC went into the set design, and it shows.
2. An old story with modern sensibilities
Whenever you’re adapting a fairytale that dates back to the late-1700s, odds are you’re going to encounter a good deal of roadblocks concerning minorities and LGBT characters (or rather, the lack thereof). Representation has become a central issue in Hollywood today, and that goes double for movies that are firmly in the mainstream spotlight.
Beauty and the Beast addressees this both skillfully and subtly, seen in the inclusion of Disney’s first openly gay character, LeFou, as well as solid minority representation (at least in the context of provincial 1740s France).
3. Fixing the original story’s core problem
In the original 1991 animated film, there was a sizable gap in logic concerning the main story thread. The basic premise: An 11-year-old boy turns an old lady away from his front door (you know, like kids are taught to do with strangers), and gets turned into a monster as punishment. Meanwhile, anyone who happened to be in the immediate vicinity found themselves turned into household appliances simply for the crime of “also being there too.”
The updated live-action Beauty and the Beast expends considerable effort fixing this, an admirable effort given that most kids likely wouldn’t notice the difference. The Beast is retconned to be a fully-grown adult when he’s transformed, and now, the house staff shares some culpability for the curse as well.
4. Giving the Beast some much-needed backstory
Disney’s cadre of interchangeable princes isn’t exactly known for its well-rounded characters. In the case of the Beast, all we really know about him is that he’s mean, cranky, and generally kind of an ass (likely a byproduct of spending his formative years as a giant lonely monster with furniture doubling as his closest friends).
The live-action remake affords us more in the way of backstory though, explaining the Beast’s misanthropy with a cruel father and the death of his mother at a young age. All in all, it’s a small, yet effective change that goes a long way toward contextualizing his considerable anger and resentment.
5. Making Gaston a true villain
Gaston may very well be the most misunderstood bad guy in the entire Disney canon. His biggest sin is his vanity, but at his core, all he wants to do is marry Belle and keep his village safe from the giant monster living close by in a neighboring castle.
The new-look Beauty and the Beast does what it can to remove that grey area from his character, which in the greater context of the story, is ultimately a good call. It’s important to emphasize that Gaston is the antithesis of a desirable romantic match, and the updated version of his character played by Luke Evans manages to be exactly that.
6. A better Belle
Part of the whole “updating an old story for modern sensibilities” involved slight tweaks to Belle’s character, all of which were positive steps. She’s always been cast as an intelligent bookworm that’s misunderstood by her small town, but the new Beauty and the Beast takes that a step further. The film paints her as even more self-assured, strong-willed, and above all else, autonomous in her romantic choices. It’s a Disney princess motif that fits with the modern aesthetic adopted by the studio for Moana, and above all else, a refreshing denial of the genre’s more flawed tropes.
7. Subtle nods to the animated classic
Adapting a universally beloved animated classic is a tall order for any director. It involves an intensely specific skill set, while the director must avoid the temptation to simply make it a shot-for-shot carbon copy. That said, it’s also just as important to acknowledge that original film, an approach we see take form in a handful of small moments. By keeping those nods at the fringes of the primary story, it helps the film feel new, while still giving audiences a comforting, familiar feel that doesn’t dominate the foreground.
8. Disney continues to justify their live-action reboots
There’s a massive burden of proof on Disney to justify each and every one of their live-action remakes as more than simply a greedy cash-grab. But as American audiences are proving more and more, the best way for a studio to make lots of money is simple: make good movies. The same may not go for films pandered to international audiences, but good work is consistently being rewarded at the domestic box office now.
With Beauty and the Beast, and to an equal extent, The Jungle Book, Disney gets to have their cake and eat it too. They get to collect at the box office on opening weekend, and they get the goodwill that goes hand-in-hand with delivering quality cinema.
9. Oscar-worthy CGI and set design
If Suicide Squad proved anything at the 2017 Oscars, it’s that you don’t have to be a good movie to win an Academy Award. That said, it’s still worth pointing out that Beauty and the Beast is award-worthy in virtually every technical category. Special effects, set design, costumes, and virtually every other bit of window dressing is a joy to look at, and it’s all enhanced by a skillfully made film overall.
Beauty and the Beast hits theaters nationwide on March 17, 2017.
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