Live Action Beauty and the Beast: A Review

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I try not to get excited about new movies and this is why. I love the original animated Disney Beauty & the Beast (which I have mentioned before in my Favored Fairytales entry on the subject). But I also love the idea of a Beauty humanizing a Beast in general. It’s such a compelling story, so I was looking forward to seeing a live action adaptation. I was curious to see how they would play the story, what kind of depth would be imparted to the characters, a new spin on a “tale as old as time.”

What I got was an often inferior carbon copy of the original animated version.

I cannot express how much this disappoints me. Don’t get me wrong; the movie isn’t bad per se. I don’t feel like I should demand my money back or that I wasted my time. It’s competently done. The singing (for the most part) is good, the CGI passable, the sets rich and ornate (albeit over-Baroqued), the costumes were pretty, and I enjoyed the talking furniture. There are some good moments between Belle and her father, both Gaston and LeFou were entertaining, and some of the plot holes from the animated film were explained (like how Gaston knew where the castle was, what happened to Belle’s mother, and why everyone didn’t seem to know that a giant, impossible-to-miss castle was sitting within a day’s ride of the village).

But.

There were so many things they could have done to enrich the characters, to deepen the story, that were missed. What depth the animated version had was mostly lost in the translation to live action, and what backstory there was felt pasted in as an afterthought rather than integrated into the film.

While I could go on at length pointing out all the flaws of the film (which others have done in great detail), I want to focus on three main points whose poor execution crippled the live action film:
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The Power of Children’s Cartoons

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“Who would have thought that child could win a children’s card game?”

— Seto Kaiba, from Episode #11 of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series

I think a lot of people underestimate the power inherent in children’s cartoons.  When they hear the word “cartoon,” they picture something light, fluffy, and utterly vacuous, filled with loud noises and sight gags. Or they might think of the painfully awkward and cheerfully grating tones of newer “edutainment” shows, most of which are not nearly as good as classics like The Magic School Bus or Wishbone.  (Or maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.)  Either way, cartoons tend to serve as a kind of temporal placeholder to keep little kids occupied while the grown-ups go do important grown-up-things.

This woefully misrepresents and denies the kind of narrative impact that cartoons can possess.  After all, cartoons are a staple of childhood, often giving kids their first real taste of serial storytelling.  Obviously different age groups will be drawn to different types of shows; one can’t expect a two-year-old to have the same attention-span as a six-year-old.  And to be fair, there is a place for cartoons comprised of stand-alone episodes and humor, both physical and verbal, like Looney Tunes, Rocky & Bullwinkle, or Tom and Jerry.  Such cartoons don’t require a viewer to invest a lot of time in order to get the payoff, and with no over-arching plot to worry about, it’s very easy to introduce newcomers to the show.  But I do believe that longer forms of story-telling can and should be presented to children at a young age so they can come to appreciate the art in all its forms.  Unfortunately, animated story-telling gets ignored because a lot of people still think that anything drawn, and in some cases even CGI, as a “cartoon” and therefore “just for kids.”  I have heard people refuse to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest TV shows ever made (in any style) simply for the sin of being animated.  And that’s a real shame.
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