Beauty and the Beast
Dir: Bill Condon
Disney enjoyed something of a renaissance in the early 90s and I would be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy some of it. Aladdin was the film I liked most, I was in my mid-teens and very anti-Disney but I couldn’t help but fall for its charms. I enjoyed Beauty & the Beast a lot less but out of the many Disney videos my younger sister had (and watched 24/7), it was one of a few (Aladdin, Little Mermaid being the others) that I didn’t mind watching with her. You can’t argue with the songs and it is easy to see why kids – and adults – enjoy it and why it has since become something of a classic. Disney have made quite a few animated films since and few are as good. However, the 1991 film is an abomination as far as adaptations go, it is another example of Disney rewriting classic literature and stamping their brand on it. It’s not just kids who are fooled, there are many adults today who think Uncle Walt wrote such stories as Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid etc. How a company can rewrite the real life story of a sex slave into a romantic kids cartoon (Pocahontas) is beyond me, to then sell her as one of their ‘Disney Princesses’ and make money from associated tat is nothing short of amoral. I’m as anti-Disney as I was in my teens but I will admit when they make a great film but like anything, when you make a copy of an earlier copy that is itself a copy, you lose quality. Don’t misunderstand me, Disney spared no expense on making the live-action version of their 1991 animated hit, but this is about as shallow and superficial as cinema gets. I’m sure the super fans loved it and I’m sure those not so obsessed with it did too, indeed it is one of the most profitable films of all time, certainly the most profitable musical of all time. It’s important to remember though that ‘most profitable’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘best’ but I will admit, the songs are catchy and I don’t hate them. As far as I can tell, the story is 90% 1991’s Beauty & the Beast, 5% the musical adaptation and aspects of 1997’s Beauty & the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas making up the other 5%. Why you would incorporate bits of a straight to VHS Disney money making load of old rubbish sequel is anyone’s guess, but I suppose it shows you just how big the fan base is. It is fair to say that certain aspects of the 1991 have been changed for the better. The song "Be Our Guest" in the animated original specifically mentions the time period of ten years regarding the rose that acts as a reminder/time setter for the Beast to act upon his curse. The final petal of the enchanted rose was to fall when the prince turned 21, if he hadn’t found love by this point the curse would stick forever. This would make him 11 at the time of the curse and wouldn’t make any sense, so removing this – and other oddities make for an improvement, but then these are somewhat ruined by constantly misplaced references. Many Disney films are nodded at, which would have been fine if they hadn’t overdone it, surely this obsession with finding ‘hidden Mickeys’ distracts from the story, no wonder kids have no attention span these days. Other musicals receive tribute, Cabaret and Singing in the rain being the most obvious, and so is the less obvious Moulin Rouge, purely for the sake that Ewan McGregor is in it. Likewise, there are countless nods to the Harry Potter films, purely because of Emma Watson. As proud as I’m sure she is of the series, I’m sure she’d like not to be typecast for the rest of her life. Why wouldn’t she want to be Belle, her childhood favourite, she made a heap of money from it but I do wonder if the fact she turned down La la Land for this will be a future regret. Ryan Gosling was wise to not make the same mistake and took the La la Land job over the role as the Beast. However, in interviews with Watson and director Bill Condon, it seems Watson had quite an influence in the film’s production. She insisted on the inclusion of her friend and screenwriter Stephen Chbosky for the film’s scriptwriting, had a big say in the costumes and totally changed her character, making herself the inventor instead of her father, giving Kevin Kline very little to do. She clearly wanted Belle to be independent and a role model for younger girls – which is very admirable – but this was probably the wrong place to do it. I admire her a lot but La Belle et la Bete was written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1740 to prepare young girls in 18th century France for arranged marriage, I don’t think you can get around that ideology. Watson wisely dismissed ideas of Stockholm Syndrome as an excuse and set about empowering Belle by updating aspects of her character and the story but I personally think she’s only amplified the power disparity between her and the beast. Without wanting to sound unkind, I think she’s convinced herself she has succeeded in something she hasn’t. She says she based part of her performance on Katherine Hepburn, but I can’t see it. I admire her good intensions but she needs to fight harder, her casting as Belle was considered fortuitous by the producers and the studio unanimously decided that she was the only choice because the character is considered the fairy tale, classical-period equivalent of her signature role of Hermione Granger. She needs to take a page out of Daniel Radcliffe’s book and star in a serial killer movie (as the serial killer) quick! I liked that Belle's town is named Villeneuve, after "Beauty and the Beast" author and I love that it fittingly translates as Newtown but it’s just not enough. It’s great that Disney are producing films that show a more diverse cast with interracial relationships and homosexual characters but it is far too forced here and I don’t think it really helps the cause. The problem is that they talked it up too much and made it a thing, where they should have just added it and carried on, as civil rights and fair representation never needs an excuse to exist, it just should without discussion. I’d like to live in a world where cinema reclaims classic literature from Disney. Remaking your own animated adaptation, that is even more ‘animated’ than that animated film, and calling it something new is ridiculous, and I hope the trend is short lived. Bizarrely it was Condon who insisted on the film being a musical and Disney were pretty hands off to begin with. However, after time they got more involved, Jean Dujardin (a real Frenchman) was dropped for Ewan McGregor and his Jamaican accent, the wolves were given scars, and every cliché and stereotype came out of the woodwork. To think Watson was previously set to star in Guillermo del Toro’s dark Beauty and the Beast that was set up at Warner Bros. What could have been. It is fair to say that one of the reasons I disliked so much is because I consider Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation to be one of the most beautiful films ever made. It is cinematic perfection, the 2017 version just shows how far the art has wandered.