Film Review: Disney expertly updates “a tale as old as time”

Well, it’s official: Disney is no longer suggesting that 11-year-old orphans should let creepy strangers into their houses when alone.

Raise your hand if you would have been transformed into a beast, then, because ‘you shouldn’t open the door to strangers.’ Director Bill Condon takes such questionable plot holes as this and answers them in Disney’s remake of the classic blockbuster Beauty and the Beast

Although an aesthetically enchanting beginning, the opening stained-glass sequence in Beauty and the Beast (1991)—which depicts the backstory behind the Prince’s curse—raises a plethora of queries. One, where is the Prince’s family? Two, the assumed-orphan prince was cursed as an 11-year-old? Who wasn’t at least a little bit of a brat when they were 11? And three: why in the world should the Prince let this haggard old woman into his house when opening the door, alone? 

Beauty and the Beast (2017), however, removes the stained-glass prologue all while removing none of the culture. To depict 1740s France, Condon makes the Rococo and Baroque details as crystal clear as the stained-glass window by having the Enchantress beg for shelter amidst the Prince’s ball. 

No longer is the Prince an 11-year-old—now, he is an adult. No longer are his parents M.I.A.—now, it is evident that his mother died when he was a child and it was his father who raised the Prince to be a cold monster. And no longer is the Enchantress asking for shelter from a child who is alone. Now, she asks him in the middle of his ball and the Prince laughs at her request for her ugliness. Mystery solved. 

But that is not the only update Condon makes. The death of Belle’s mother as caused by a plague in Paris is revealed, along with the side of the curse that prevents the French from remembering that there is a royal castle just on the outskirts of the forest. Before, these were simply overlooked details.

While modernizing the ‘tale as old as time,’ Condon skillfully knew exactly what to keep his hands off, too. A myriad of lines from the 2017 script were copied verbatim from the 1991 film, along with the archetypes of dispositions in the characters. Belle is as individualistic and strong-willed as ever—even more of feminist, if anything, due to the skilled hands of Emma Watson—and Gaston as arrogant and close-minded. 

Even LeFou is the same: yes, the same, despite his “exclusively gay moment” in Beauty and the Beast (2017), as Condon told Attitude magazine; Cosmopolitan put it best when saying: blink and you’ll miss it. 

With that in mind, there are minor objections. Like the 1991 version, the Beast is only ever referred to as the Beast or the Prince, even when actor Dan Stevens returns to his human form; Belle never wanted to know her Prince’s name? Much of a person’s identity comes from what others refer to them as. Just look at Belle: her name literally means beautiful.  

Furthermore, the grand ballroom sequence where Belle wears the iconic yellow ball gown—which was historic for Disney, as it featured the first computer-generated color background to be both animated and fully dimensional, according to CGI artistic supervisor Jim Hillin—seemed stiff in the remake. 

Perhaps it is because they were so focused on Stevens appearing taller than Watson that he had to wear platform shoes while waltzing for the scene. Or maybe it is because they were so focused on Watson nailing her posture for the waltz that they had her rehearse with 1-pound weights on her wrists. 

Either way, viewers came to see sparks fly in this classic tale between two lovers—not to see an accurate depiction of a waltz between a colossal Beast and his belle of the ball. 

Lesser critiques aside, Disney’s remake of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting, and viewers everywhere continue to be captivated by the charming nostalgia in the air. 

It is, in a word, magical.