“Beauty and the Beast” was originally released in 1991 and has set the standard for classic children’s animated movies for the past 26 years. The live-action remake wasn’t without its controversy, but the box office has proven any criticisms of it’s concept wrong. The comparison of the two films, animated and live-action, is inevitable.
Both films stand on their own merits and faults, but it’s refreshing to see filmmakers follow through with improving on the story. The use of a different medium and more advanced technology allows more time with the characters, and more details on the visuals. The filmmakers have the benefits of two decades of hindsight, and they managed to take the film in a new direction.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for both the 1991 and 2017 versions of “Beauty and the Beast.”
15. BELLE’S NOT A SNOB
The relationship between Belle and the villagers is the focus for the first big musical number, “Belle.” However, in the 2017 version it’s less snobbish on the part of Belle. During the musical sequence, Belle isn’t deliberately ignoring everyone in town like in the animated feature. She has friendly conversations with most of the villagers and clearly tries to be a part of the community. In a later scene, Belle even invites a young girl to learn how to read. However, the lesson is shut down and it’s implied that this isn’t the first time Belle has tried to improve life in her community.
This is an important character beat for Belle because in the original, her rejection of this provincial life seems entirely self-imposed. Presumably, Belle has no friends because she can’t find someone who is her equal. In the live-action version, it’s made clear that Belle cares about her neighbors but is continually rejected.
14. VILLAGERS ARE SYMPATHETIC
However, this is not to say that villagers are demonized. Nobody looks good in the midst of an angry mob, but everything prior to that establishes that the villagers are stuck in tradition more than malice. When Maurice accuses Gaston of attempted murder, it takes quite a lot of goading on Gaston’s part to get the villager’s to believe him. For all their faults, the villagers still want justice for the outsiders in their midst.
In the original, the villagers are the butt of jokes, or part of a disposable army to be defeated. Unfortunately, this detracts from the overall theme of learning how to look past appearances to see the better person underneath. The live-action remake makes parallels between Belle and the villagers more than anyone else, therefore they end up learning the same lesson. The film isn’t out to make Belle into the only person with the capacity for empathy.
13. NEW DESIGNS FOR THE OBJECTS
If anyone was going into the live-action remake hoping that the castle staff would just like the ones in the animation, they were disappointed by the time the first trailer came around. Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts and friends received some much-needed updates to their object designs, and each one looked amazing. Given that a huge part of the Beast’s backstory is that he adored beautiful objects, it makes sense that the staff would be turned into elaborately designed and painted versions of themselves. However, these designed still allowed the objects to show complex facial expressions and body movements, while incorporating the superb performances by their voice actors. Even so, these designs allowed the tragedy of slowly turning into objects that much more heartbreaking.
Although, the version of this movie where the staff have realistic eyes embedded in metal bodies would tip the film even further into David-Cronenberg-body-horror than it already is. That’s a film definitely worth watching.
12. ADDITION OF AGATHE
The live-action remake added a human face to the Enchantress who serves as more of a vindictive judge in the original adaptation. The Enchantress casts a terrifying curse on the Prince and his staff, but that’s not the end of the story. There are numerous points in the film where a village woman named Agathe shows up in the nick of time to help the heroes along their journey, and gently prod the plot along to make sure the lovers actually have time together. During the second transformation sequence, it’s implied that it’s an act of mercy on the part of Agathe/Enchantress that lifts the curse since Belle’s declaration comes after the final petal fell.
This change not only makes the Enchantress less of a villain, but her alter-ego Agathe demonstrates the kind of prejudice unmarried women faced during this time period, and how lucky Belle is that she has a loving father who backs her decisions.
11. MORE CONVERSATIONS
A fault of the animated movie is the lack of substantive conversations between the Beast and Belle. Most of the events during their burgeoning relationship are implied to take place during the “Something There” sequence. This is probably more of a fault of the medium and the time period in which the film was made. When you’re spending expensive time with brand-new technology for big sequences like dance numbers, it’s hard to justify time spent where you have to animate expressions and facial movements for a lengthy, character-building conversation.
The live-action had their own animation techniques to deal with, but the conversations that Belle and the Beast have are better suited for a film which can have two actors in a shot talking normally to each other. This allows the audience more insight into these characters as people, why they relate to each other, and why they would be attracted to each other as people in the first place.
10. GASTON IS CLEARLY THE VILLAIN
In the 25-odd years since the animation’s release, Gaston has been treated to somewhat of a revision of his character. Sure, he’s brash and presumptive and attempts murder, but the animated version of the character is established as more of a buffoon. This needs to happen in the animation because it’s for children and Gaston needs to be annoying without being threatening, while adults are more likely to pick up on the predatory aspects of this behavior.
The live-action version makes slight alterations to the character which allow him to have comedic moments, but always with a much darker implication for the benefit of the adult audience. He’s established as a liar and a bully, even turning on his best friend LeFou at one point. There’s even an condemnation against liking violence for violence’s sake, as Gaston is implied to have been a soldier in an unspecified war (possibly the French Revolution).
9. THE PARISIAN GARRET
Belle benefits in the live-action version because her mother becomes a real character. The starkest example of this is the scene where Belle and the Beast are transported to the Parisian garret where Belle was born and her mother mysteriously died. Having Belle share this discovery with the Beast allows the intimacy between to grow even further, and be the tipping point of their relationship. This also allows Belle the chance to find out what it means to grow up, to understand the pain of another (in this case her father’s), and understand why he would be motivated to keep something from her. The past is no longer idealized for her and she’s finally ready to move into the future.
8. THE BEAST’S MOTIVATIONS ARE DEFINED
The Beast’s backstory is something that is not very detailed in either the animation or the live-action version of the film. The audience knows that he was demonstrably selfish and arrogant, and he learns to be more considerate and empathetic throughout the story. However, the live-action film benefits on two points. First, the audience learns that the Prince lost his mother at a young age and was left in the care of a cold and uncaring father. This is how the staff explains the Beast’s learned behavior, and makes it more understandable as to why the staff would still care about him after the curse. They still see the sweet kid who was corrupted by his father.
In this way, the Beast’s arc is less about him learning to be a better person and more about un-learning bad behavior patterns. This makes him much more sympathetic and allows the audience to cheer him on.
7. HOMAGES TO THE MUSICAL
The live-action film is actually not the first adaptation of the animated movie to be portrayed on a set. An adapted stage play of the film premiered on Broadway in 1994 and closed in 2007, thereby becoming the tenth-longest running show in Broadway history. The stage show is the origin for the song “Human Again” which was recently edited into the special anniversary edition of the 1991 animated version. However, close listeners to the score in the live-action version may have heard a familiar melody whenever Belle was alone in her room.
The melody from “Home,” a solo song for Belle from the stage musical was woven into the soundtrack for each of those scenes. In the musical, the number and it’s reprise show how Belle learns to accept her new life as a metaphor for growing up. This is a theme that strengthens her character in the stage show and the live-action, but wasn’t included in the original animation.
6. THE BEAST’S SONG “EVERMORE”
The live-action version also includes an original song for the Beast called “Evermore.” The thesis of the song is simple: the Beast has learned to let Belle go and comes to the conclusion that while he will always love her, he does not expect her to return that love. Dan Steven’s performance, even with added impediments like fangs in the mouth and a deepened voice, is utterly heartbreaking. The song also establishes that despite his damaging childhood, the Beast takes full responsibility for his bad behavior, and learns to be a better person in spite of it.
The animation doesn’t give the Beast his own song, and the only time he ever sings is one verse during “Something There.” Allowing him the time to express his feelings in song (an extension of his thoughts) allows the audience an insight into the depth of his feelings, which he couldn’t bring himself to say aloud to Belle.
5. MAURICE ISN’T A BUFFOON
Casting Kevin Kline as Maurice was a work of genius. He brings a level of gravitas to a part that mostly calls for absent-mindedness almost bordering on irresponsibility. Instead, Kline’s Maurice is a man that’s deeply haunted by grief while still working to secure his daughter’s future as best he can. Not only is the love between Maurice and Belle believable, but also there’s an understanding that Belle genuinely respects her father as a person.
The animated version of the character isn’t allowed that kind of dignity. There’s an implication that Maurice depends on Belle far too heavily, since he can barely function in her absence. Granted, this might be a result of worry for safety more than anything else, but there isn’t any sign prior to indicate that they are a team against the rest of the world. He even speaks positively of Gaston, while Kline’s Maurice only allows him to help insofar as it would help Belle.
4. THE BEAST’S AGE
Quick-witted watchers of the animated movie have long put together the biggest plot-hole in the film: the Beast’s age. In the opening narration, the deadline to break the curse is when the final petal fell on the Beast’s 21st birthday. Then in the lyrics of “Be Our Guest,” Lumiere reveals that the staff have been under the curse for 10 years, making the Beast 11 years old when he was cursed. Everybody knows annoying kids, but they generally don’t deserve a curse before they even hit puberty.
The live-action movie took quick action to prove that the Prince was, in fact, a grown man when he insulted the Enchantress. It is clear that the curse lasted a number of years, but the film plays fast and loose with exactly how long the curse lasted. This allows the Prince to be accountable for his actions and keeps the Enchantress from being depicted as a vindictive monster.
3. LEFOU IS REDEEMED
The biggest controversy during the live-action release was in regards to LeFou. The director, Bill Condon, revealed that LeFou is struggling with his sexuality during the film, which culminates in a moment during the final scenes. Many worried that making a villainous character like LeFou the identity character for an LBGTQ+ audience would be insulting. Poorly handling this could have made the situation even worse since the music for the original animation was written by Howard Ashman, a gay man who died of AIDS shortly before the 1991 release.
However, LeFou’s sexual identity is a catalyst for learning the mirror lesson to Belle: seeing past an attractive surface to see a monster underneath. Josh Gad’s performance gives all the comedy of the original with much more emotional depth. The animated version of the character is merely a two-dimensional henchman who only exists to bolster Gaston’s egoism, and therefore commits horrible deeds unworthy of redemption.
2. TRAGIC LOVE OF M. CADENZA AND MME. GARDEROBE
Two characters were created especially for the live-action film were Monsieur Cadenza and his wife Madame Garderobe, played by Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald respectively. They are separated while in their object forms, which gives the cursed staff an undertone of tragedy that the animation ignored altogether. Madame Garderobe is also used as a kind of litmus test for how close the staff is to becoming inanimate, which heightens the tension as the film draws closer to it’s conclusion.
The animated version doesn’t have characters like this, since it’s pretty much implied that the objects have much of the same range of motion they had when they were humans. The animation makes the objects more comedic, while the live-action film is able to create more dynamic characters capable of comedy and tragedy. Furthermore, M. Cadenza and Mme. Garderobe serve as a minor foil to the Beast and Belle. The man is talented, but not conventionally attractive, but is still adored by his beautiful wife.
1. BELLE’S DRESS IS REFRESHED
If there’s one thing people remember about the animation, it’s Belle’s dress. It’s been featured in almost every marketing campaign that Disney has put out since the film’s release, and more than one little girl once wore a version for Halloween. Therefore, the filmmakers shocked everyone when the promotional stills of Belle’s updated dress hit the internet.
However, there are deliberate, story-based reasons for why Belle’s dress looks the way it does. First, the design is much simpler in order to contrast with the female dancers in the film’s opening. The more period-appropriate fashion is used to set a baseline for how people try to present themselves as something else than what they are, and Belle needs to be the polar opposite of that. She wears very little makeup and jewelry in the sequence, and the dress needs to look like it’s floating to contrast with the stiff skirts of the period. Secondly, the animated dress is iconic, but it’s designed to be animated – namely it looks best as a still image, rather than in movement. The live-action dress is designed to look best in movement, and even resembles a rose when the panels float out during a spin.
Are there any other live-action Disney films you feel are better than their original animated versions? Let us know in the comments!