A Better Beast?

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The 2017, Disney-made live-action Beauty and the Beast remake is only happening for one reason, and it rhymes with honey. Disney’s animated adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is still loved 25 years after its 1991 theatrical debut, and is often called one of the greatest animated films. Of course Disney wants to mine from this and other animated films of theirs that are hailed as the best. Tim Burton’s re-imagining of the Alice stories was a runaway smash in 2010, and when Disney tapped other properties they adapted into animated classics, they saw similar success. Unlike Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella visually rung closer to their animated predecessors. They, too, were huge hits. The Jungle Book was essentially the Kipling story mixed with the Disney version’s elements, that also took off.

Beauty and the Beast 2017 will stick close to the animated classic and the Broadway production it spun off. It won’t be its own retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast story, which already turns me off to the movie, on top of the fact that I have a personal bias against Disney remaking all their animated classics in live-action. In fact, something spoken during this upcoming film’s uploaded-to-YouTube table read makes me say… “Ok, now I *really* don’t want to see this”…

Director Bill Condon stated when trying to justify this remake’s existence…

“When something is so perfect why get near it? The answer is technology has caught up with the ideas that were introduced in that movie.”

Hold the phone…

BeastShocked

Okay, to start off…

Admittedly, I’m not the hugest fan of Beauty and the Beast and the whole Disney Renaissance of the late 1980s and the whole of the 1990s. I think there are stronger Disney animated films than Beauty and the Beast, as I don’t think it’s anywhere near “greatest” status. It is a great movie, but for me it doesn’t come anywhere near Walt’s earliest features, some of the ambitious modern films, and a few titles in between. That being said, it’s too good to be redone. It was done so right the first time…

Now, as for the visuals.

Beauty and the Beast indeed has strong animation, lovely art direction, and lots of fine, graceful movements. The ballroom dance is still as jaw-dropping as it was 25 years ago. Other scenes in the film were impacted by the rushed schedule and the budget the animators had to stay below, in order to get the picture out almost exactly a year after the last one. That was Disney’s new strategy at the time, spearheaded by Jeffrey Katzenberg. They wanted an assembly line of animated features pumped out, trying to emulate Walt’s way of doing it before World War II pulled the rug out from under the studio.

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Walt and his crew, however, went all out with the budgets, which ultimately caused some of the films to fail at the box office alongside other factors. Walt and crew faced the consequences of spending so much on the individual films, but it was all for the better. Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi, produced in the span of 2 1/2 years, are all visually resplendent and gorgeous, with nary a bad shot. Even the shoestring budgeted Dumbo, made between Fantasia and Bambi in order to help recoup costs, was lavish. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin were relatively low budget, and had to adhere to the rules. Thankfully, the art direction in those three films is great, and the animation and movements make up for the cheaper production values in other scenes.

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Condon, I think, is wrong in stating that the technology has caught up with the 1991 film’s ideas. Animation perfectly brought that story to life, from its backgrounds to its character designs.

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The new Lumiere and Cogsworth are overwrought in their designs, way too complex, needlessly labored over… Less is more. The animators who gave us Lumiere and Cogsworth in the 1991 film knew what to do, traditional animation and the whole world of caricature animation that *knows* it’s unreal are a big part of why we love these characters, these stories. The best Disney animated films did this, and continue to do this.

As my writing/Disney fan friend Rachel put it on her blog, “I never watched Beauty and the Beast and thought ‘boy if only they had greater technology this could be executed better.'”

Why is realism is better? Why is something that’s so close to life better? I believe Lumiere and Cogsworth are a candlestick and clock, respectively. They may be hand-drawn and hand-painted, but that doesn’t take away their believability. When they speak and move, it isn’t jarring… I’d say the technology in 1991 perfectly executed the animators’ ideas!

No, it feeds into the prevailing belief that animation is and will always be second-best to live-action filmmaking… And live-action filmmaking coated with – ironically – animation that’s meant to look like real-life. I don’t get anything special out of the new Lumiere and Cogsworth, all I get is “Wow, nice visuals”, but little else. It also is a nightmarish reminder of executives’ resistance to traditional animation, especially during the toxic early 2000s, and how they fetishized it. How it was “more advanced” than traditional animation, how it was more “realistic”, how it was, how it was that. Remember when Michael Eisner wanted to remake all of the Disney animated classics, shot-by-shot, in computer animation??? Completely missing the entire point of traditional animation, and perhaps animation as a whole!

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Animation that knows it’s animation is the real deal. I just saw Kubo and the Two Strings in theaters, a film that takes advantage of the fact that it is animated, bringing out character designs, creatures, color schemes, environments, and elements that are born for the animated treatment. It’s a film that justifies its use of animation. It knows it doesn’t look like real life, it FEELS like real life. We love many classic paintings because we can feel the atmosphere, the events, and such… Why can’t we love animated films for the same reason? We animation fans know this, but the general public can’t get past the “cartoon”…

No, Beauty and the Beast 2017’s visuals will not be better than the 1991 film’s visuals. No matter how opulent it may end up looking, it won’t “top” the painted backgrounds, the lovingly crafted character designs, and sweeping CGI effects used for the ballroom. It’ll compliment them, sit alongside them, but not on top them. I don’t need for something to look real, I want to feel how real it is, you know? I feel the 1991 Beauty and the Beast, drawings or no drawings. Because of that, and everything else, I can get invested into the story!

Stuff like this is ultimately why I personally reject the live-action remakes Disney has been putting out as of late. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, slipshod forgettable twaddle it may be, at least didn’t look to emulate Walt Disney’s 1951 classic. These remakes, sans Pete’s Dragon, are doing the opposite. They aren’t unique new tellings of these classic stories, they’re just mining off of the iconic Disney versions for the buck. It’s a smart corporate decision, yes, but it also feeds into the belief that animation is second-best to live-action filmmaking… 50 years after animation took such blows to its reputation in the 1960s, and we’re still trying to get its stigmas off of it. They’re super-glued onto the medium, and Disney pumping out these remakes is not helping.

To me, these films are “Disney for people who don’t like Disney animation”. A lot of people my age gave into society’s demands, and “grew out” of the great animated stories of Disney, and most animation in general. They “put it on the shelf” in their quest to “be adults”. I didn’t. I wasn’t a “cool” kid. I loved good quality, no matter how it was presented. I didn’t grow out of my Disneys, my Pixars, my cartoons, or my other interests. I moved on from low quality stuff I liked as a kid, but not great stuff I loved as a kid. I’m a real adult who – like a real individual – likes whatever the heck I want, regardless of what other people say.

Live-action Beauty and the Beast and these other remakes, to me, feel like they’re made for the people who are the exact opposite of me. The people who moved on from everything they loved as a young’un in the name of acceptance. The realism and PG-rated edge is essentially coating on something they wouldn’t touch with a 39 1/2 ft pole. As a result, I am not interested. Some of these remakes may be good quality films, but I have no need to see them. Again, personally I’m not interested, and also… The originals were good-to-great quality, so that’s why the remakes are good. Where else would they get that high quality?

As The Critic said around two decades ago… “If it’s a remake of a classic, rent the classic!”

If the live-action Beauty and the Beast was doing something brand new with the tale as old as time, I would be interested. Instead, it’s just the 1991 animated film dressed up in “cool” clothes for all the “cool” people to admire…

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7 thoughts on “A Better Beast?

  1. Even if it was just dressed up in new clothes that would be annoying but fine. However, to suggest that the original was lacking and now they can finally get it right made me so upset!

    Like

  2. My theory on the remakes is that it’s because of the critical reception of “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) as well as “Tron Legacy” from the same year bombing at the box office that Disney did a turnaround the way they do these kind of movies they’re putting out nowadays, from “Maleficent” onward, to the point where the remakes are essentially the original animated movies “dressed up” – pun partially intended – as live action films.
    Then again, “John Carter” did sort of kill off any chances for Disney to make any live-action films that WOULDN’T be based on or inspired by their own properties.

    Liked by 1 person

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