If the 1990s was the Disney Renaissance era, the 2010s would be the Disney Reminiscence era. The 1990s was nicknamed in such a way because many of the studio’s best animated successes — from The Little Mermaid and Aladdin all the way up to Mulan and Tarzan — were produced during that time. Two decades later, Disney is looking back to its past masterpieces. Its quest is to bring them to screens again, this time in live-action. So far Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book have come to life. Now, it is Beauty and the Beast’s turn.
Given the popularity of the Disney franchise, commercial success for the live Beauty and the Beast is more or less granted. But when it comes to live-action remakes of animations, the biggest point of interest is: will it be able to keep up with the high caliber of the original? In this respect, there is a lot of pressure for the new Beauty and the Beast. The original, after all, was one of the Renaissance’s biggest hits and most acclaimed.
One must admit that the new Beauty and the Beast is quite a spectacle, full of color and stunning special effects. Thus, in terms of visual effects, the answer to the question of interest is a definite yes. The Be Our Guest scene was particularly delightful — who could resist dancing cutlery, especially when they come with disco lights and lots of confetti? The ballroom scene was certainly a feast to the eye as well, with the colored lights in the background making Belle’s signature yellow dress shine. What purpose, however, does all that pomp serve? Past the gaudy surface, viewers are left only with the dullness of re-watching a too well-known story. With its bright colors the movie desperately chases for the enchanting magic of the original film, but never quite gets it right.
Storytelling is the major problem here. The myriad additions made to the original movie, most likely to appease the evolved public taste over the past 26 years, actually ended up subtracting from the narrative coherence and ultimately from the charm of the story. The new Beauty and the Beast “modernized” by including representatives of the colored and LGBT communities to their production — a laudable effort, truly. They also gave Belle (Emma Watson) more feminist cheek, but this actually made it seem as if she suffered from Stockholm syndrome and her sudden affection towards the Beast (Dan Stevens) questionable. Then there were those out-of-the-blue flashbacks and new musical sequences, intended to provide deeper insight into the characters minds. These made the perfectly adequate hour-and-a-half screen time of the original film half an hour too long, making the story drag on slowly. Moreover, even with those struggles the characters of Belle and the Beast remained quite bland. These superfluous additions, taken together with the clumsy editing and scene changes, made the entire story cluttered and blurred the focus of the movie.
The new Beauty and the Beast is like one of those old sparkly trinkets often sold on the streets: appealing for its nostalgia, but nothing less, nothing more. Perhaps live-action films are at a disadvantage when it comes to charm, for they lack the innate innocence of animated films. But it is Disney’s job to overcome that barrier. Hopefully, with the next movies in line for remakes, Disney will be able to better reproduce the enchantment that forms the core of their classics.