Three Improvements in “Beauty & The Beast”

Adding anything new to an established classic is often a risky move, but it occasionally pays off. You run the risk of ruining a legacy, but building upon that legacy can be a risk worth taking. 

With the live-action remake of “Beauty & The Beast” there are indeed a few smaller details that were left out from the original animated film, but there were some very important new elements added to the latest version that have actually made the story and its characters even better.

Here are three somethings there that weren’t there before.

characterThe reason that “Beauty & The Beast” became a classic in the first place was never its music, like most Disney musicals-it more had to do with their memorable characters. Belle was a smart, young, intelligent girl. Gaston was the overly-brash, excessively-masculine alpha-male. Add in all of the other minor characters and it is hard to not get sucked into the story.

The only downside to some of these characters in the original animated feature was that they were often one-dimensional. This completely works for a children’s movie because caricatures play along with familiarity and it doesn’t do any overall harm to the film when you consider its audience. However, the more depth you can add, the larger audience you can captivate.

Major characters are still prominently featured, but minor characters are given more limelight and much more understood. Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) was originally the stock character of the quirky, crazy old man. There is much more sympathy in the character with this adaptation. Kline does not play him as this senile caricature. Instead of coming of as insane, he comes off as a misunderstood man who would rather keep to himself and his daughter.

One of the better examples of featuring a smaller character is the Enchantress that puts the spell on The Beast. The character was originally just used as a plot tool. She was only there to explain how the young prince was turned into a beast and then we never saw her again. In the live action version, we are introduced to her early and she reappears throughout the film, most prominently at the end. It’s important to do this because it bookends the entire story. They do this in exceptional fashion. The beggar that she appears as early in the film is one that the audience can feel sorry for. When she makes brief appearances throughout the picture–including a brief scene where she tends to Maurice after he escapes the castle– her appearance and relation to the town are very similar to those of Lucy Barker in “Sweeney Todd.”

backstoryOther than the curse put on the Beast, we do not know much backstory in the original animated version of the film. The story is able to go on without it, but it certainly would benefit with more understanding of the moments leading up to the start of the film.

One of the best scenes of the live-action remake is when Belle is able to revisit the scene of her mother’s death. Before, there wasn’t too much known about Belle’s mother and really any of her life before the start of the film. In this remake, there are a few brief mentions of her mother dying when Belle was young and Maurice leaving Paris with her, but he seemed to be afraid to talk about the story as whole.

When Beasts shows Belle that she can use a magical atlas to go anywhere, she chose to go to Paris on the night that her mother died. Belle finds a doctor’s mask and sees her mother asking Maurice to take their child and let her die. It’s clear that Belle’s mother was dying from the plague and she made Maurice leave in regards to Belle’s future.

Not only does this bring insight to Belle’s past from a story point of view, but also fleshes out her character and makes her more rounded. It shows how strong of a woman her mother was. Belle was always diving in books and wanting to live in those worlds. This backstory shows a real side of her. The additions even show that Belle shares Maurice’s invention skills, making her even more of an outcast during the period. This portrays her as a strong, determined, and independent woman–as opposed to a fantasy girl with dreams.

It also rounds out Maurice even further. We always knew Maurice was passionate about his inventions, but he was just a wild man with idea and no structure in his life. The backstory of his wife shows a true side to him. There is a general theme of finding happiness. Maurice creates devices and musical instruments because he believes they could return him to a much simpler time, when he was happy and in love.

romanceOne of the striving factors of the original film was also one of the biggest issues with the story. People fell in love with the romance, but they also criticized it.  A young woman is imprisoned inside a castle by a monster. He finally releases her, but she is now in love with him.

Classic Stockholm Syndrome. A little creepy, right?

Disney seemed to be completely aware of this issue and made changes to the story in order to make the audience understand why Belle fell in love with The Beast, and not just because it’s in the script.

From the get-go, Belle is not established as a young girl who is desperate for a husband. She wants to find love, but she doesn’t believe that it will define her. Just as before, she absolutely hates The Beast when she first meets him. The difference is that instead of having a complete change in emotions overnight, Belle goes through a slow and gradual change of how she looks at and feels towards The Beast.

With the gestures– such as giving her the library and seeing the changes in how The Beast behaves– she does not go from hate to love. She begins to understand him, but realizes how crazy the idea of loving a monster is. With every two steps forward, she takes a slight step back.

This is not just aided by the script either; Emma Watson’s performance and Bill Condon’s direction play a large part in dethroning the notion of a delusional romance. With every tiny, redeemable quality that The Beast shows, there is an absolutely perfect reaction and facial expression from Watson. You can see it in her eyes and body language that Belle is beginning to not just tolerate the Beast, but to actually appreciate him. Again though, with every moment of appreciation, she non-verbally communicates to herself “remember, this guy imprisoned you and your father. Step back.”

With many great stories, there is always that moment of realization. Belle finally has that during The Beast’s fight with Gaston in the final act of the film. Granted, this doesn’t change too much from the previous installment. Her moment of realization during the animated feature was also during this scene, but the moments leading up to it change the perception of the romance. Because of Belle’s internal struggles in previous scenes, the ultimate moment of realization is much stronger and more believable in this installment.

 

 

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