I went to the cinema with a friend today and she happened to mention that she’d just seen the remake of Beauty and the Beast. When I asked her what she thought about it her answer was “I really liked it because it’s exactly the same.” Anyone who has read my review from Tuesday will know that, whilst I didn’t hate the film, I didn’t exactly feel blown away by the new film. Especially after we’d been promised such great things by its director, Bill Condon, and its star, Emma Watson. My issue with the film is exactly the reason that people love it so much. The reviews have been great because it is exactly the same as the film they love. The film took no risks and added nothing new to the narrative, except for a wife for Cogsworth and a husband for Mrs Potts. There’s been great feedback from audiences but it’s mostly because it just reminds them how good the original film is. It feels like cheating. Why would you want to watch an imitation when you can still watch the real thing? It’s like tribute bands to real bands that are still touring. Yeah, it’s fine in a pinch but you’d much rather see the real deal. So, for TBT this week, I did.
Beauty and the Beast is getting older now. It’s only 3 years younger than I am and I’m fucking old. However, saying that it’s old does not mean that it is in anyway inferior. You can tell that isn’t because the updated film is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film. Of course, for all of the nostalgic warmth that Emma Watson and co. may have been able to drum up, there can be no substitute for the real thing. No matter how dodgy the story at the heart of it is deep down. I mean, I know that Coke is really bad for me because of the sugar but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start drinking Diet Coke with it’s shitty tasting sweeteners, does it. There is so much charm within the ’90s animation that just couldn’t be replicated with a cavalcade of CGI household objects.
There’s a reason that Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s possible it could be because 1991 was a shitty year for films but, looking at the evidence, it’s more likely that it was because Beauty and the Beast is a fucking great film. It’s a triumph of animation, voice acting, and soundtrack. Everything comes together perfectly to create a truly magical experience that helped strengthen a new era in terms of Disney’s movies. Emma Watson may be desperately trying to convince us that her version of Belle is a super feminist but, the fact is, Belle kind of broke the Princess mould back in ’91. Yes, the story is all about love but Belle doesn’t spend all of her time mooning over a guy. She craves adventure and bravely steps into dangerous situations to save her family. She’s intelligent, creative and wants to make something of herself. She’s always been inspirational.
But, let’s be honest, the story itself isn’t what made this film so memorable. It’s a story about a girl meeting a guy and the story of how they fall in love. Just like every other Disney film. This film holds up because it is so incredibly well made. When we look back now and remember that, in another timeline, Beauty and the Beast could have been made as a non-musical it seems insane. The soundtrack, created by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, is pretty flawless. The compositions are rich and memorable, whilst the lyrics are funny, emotional and really clever. It helps that the voice actors give such solid performances. Angela Lansbury’s version of the title song can not be surpassed for the understated simplicity that makes is so romantic. I love Emma Thompson but she lacked something the ’91 version had oodles of.
It’s one of the reasons that ballroom scene is such an iconic moment in film history. The grandness of the animation next to Angela Lansbury’s almost timid performance is quite spectacular. To be honest, the song didn’t need to be something too extravagant because the visuals were so impressive. This was the first Disney film that used any digital assistance in its creation and it remains an impressive feat even to this day. The details on Belle’s dress as she twirls round the ballroom is still some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The world of Beauty and the Beast is a classic cartooony Disney world but it was a revolutionary step into their golden age. This was film made by the best people that could be found and it has stood the test of time. Call me cynical or biased but it’s not something I expect to be saying about the latest version in 26 years time.