Some movies should not be remade.
They are too special, their approaches too creative and their impact too significant to be taken apart and put back together again. These films should be left alone.
But the folks at Disney like to remake their classic films including, in the last few years, new versions of Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon, The Jungle Book and, now, the unnecessary remake of Beauty and the Beast.
The original – the first animated feature to be Oscar nominated for Best Picture – is a perfectly created movie that tells a lovely story in a creative way. Its characters come to life in the imagery of Disney artists and the vocal talents of such veterans as Angela Lansbury and the late Jerry Ohrbach. And icing the cake is the magical score by Broadway veterans Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
Like the best musicals that celebrate aspiration, Beauty and the Beast explores the wonder of curiosity. Belle is a young woman who wants to experience every adventure she absorbs from literature. Her curiosity takes her to places and people beyond the remote village where she lives. But Belle is a realist. She knows how people can misunderstand the curious. And she realizes that people taunt and tease when they can’t relate to a mind filled with question. Only when her father gets lost in the forest, and she tries to save him, does Belle truly learn how, when someone hungers to experience, excitement may follow.
As beautifully as the story came to life on the animated screen, the live-action remake disappoints. From its opening moments, the magic is missing. Bill Condon, who directed Dreamgirls on screen, starts the show with the same opening number – Belle – but fails to establish the yearning Belle experiences. Instead of letting his camera move with the music, as in the animated film, Condon chooses to focus on the crowds that mock the girl. His challenges continue when he introduces the buffoon Gaston. Instead of broadening the character to counter Belle’s humanity, Condon gives the man an angry veneer that strips away the humor.
The real problems, though, begin when Belle arrives at the mysterious castle. The original magically captured the humanity of people turned into household objects thanks to the drawings of animators and the talents of actors. But the reliance on computer-generated imagery this time around makes these objects so realistic that it’s difficult to imagine they were once human. Instead of warming up to the kindness of Mrs. Potts or the humor of Lumiere we simply watch a talking teapot and a fussy candlestick. The fun disappears. Even Be Our Guest – the show stopping recreation of a big Busby Berkeley production number – becomes an over-extended exercise in computer generation that fails to ignite that sense of joy that a musical should bring.
On film, the original Beauty and the Beast felt like a show created for Broadway. Through its drawings, the movie captured the excitement of live theater even though, of course, the singing and dancing were animated. But this unnecessary remake misses what made the first film so magical. And, when I got home, I just wanted to watch the original. One more time.
Beauty and the Beast
Content: High. The story of young girl who wants to experience life in her small village offers all the ingredients for a magical movie. And that movie was made in 1991.
Entertainment: Medium. While the original version celebrated the joy of Broadway and animation, the remake feels trapped in the conventions of computer generation.
Message: Medium. Because the film focuses so much on its visual experience, there is less opportunity for the characters to come to life than in the animated approach.
Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to share a film as a family is relevant. But the movie fails to recreate the magic of the original.
Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. The movie offers a fun opportunity to remember why the original film works so much better than this unnecessary remake.
(Beauty and the Beast, running 2 hours and 9 minutes, is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images. The Reel Dad rating: 3 Popcorn Buckets.)
Other Unnecessary Movie Remakes
While the remake of the Disney classic Beauty of the Beast may make lots of money, it does little to enhance this tale as old as time.
As disappointing as the new film may be, this is not the first time that Hollywood has been tempted to tinker with a movie classic. Since movies began to talk, moviemakers have loved the idea of turning popular titles into new properties.
But some movies should not be remade. They are, simply, too special.
Here are three unnecessary remakes in addition to the new Beauty and the Beast.
A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976)
Hollywood loves this story of a young star on the rise who falls in love with an aging star in decline. The first version, What Price Hollywood, dazzled audiences in 1932. The second, renamed A Star Is Born, became an early color classic when released in 1937. And the best version came out in 1954 when Judy Garland turned the story into a memorable musical. That should have been enough. But Barbra Streisand saw potential in the story and, in 1976, turned it into a rock musical costarring Kris Kristoferson. While the new version made lots of money, and won an Oscar for the song Evergreen, it skipped the essence of the story to give Streisand more screen time than her costar. By neglecting the character in decline, the birth of the new star was much less meaningful this time around.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962, 2004)
On paper, the remake looked like a great idea. Oscar winner Denzel Washington seemed a convincing choice to play the role of a military hero haunted by his wartime experiences. Oscar winner Meryl Streep was sure to shine in the role of an ambitious mother for which Angela Lansbury was an Oscar nominee for the original 1962 version. And Liev Schreiber was considered ideal to play a man tormented by his political temptations. But the movie didn’t need to made. The original – made at the height of the Cold War by director John Frankenheimer – became a classic articulation of the fear of Communist conspiracy. Its message was considered so meaningful, in fact, that it was withdrawn from theatrical release after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Seen today, its black-and-white imagery recreates the period with such precision that it feels like a movie time capsule. The remake feels unnecessary.
Far From the Madding Crowd (1967, 2015)
As an English major with a passion for British literature, I spent many an afternoon absorbing the novels of Thomas Hardy. My favorite, Far From the Madding Crowd, introduces the compelling character Bathsheba. In 1967 – fresh from winning an Oscar for Darling – the lovely Julie Christie found a way to play this complex character in a definitive movie adaptation that ran three hours. When Hollywood remade the movie, and trimmed its running time to two hours, director Thomas Vintenberg tried to look beyond the superficialities of Bathsheba’s entanglements. Rather than give the character lovely gowns to wear, Vintenberg shows her working the farm as she debates her liaisons. While Julie Christie brought a mysterious indifference to the role, Carey Mulligan is too likable. While her performance would easily fit into Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, Bathsheba’s selfishness gets lost in Mulligan’s charm. And that’s not what Hardy had in mind.
Unnecessary remakes will continue to be made. That’s the Hollywood way. But we don’t have to go like them.
See you at the movies.