The original 1991 film is an animated classic that has its place among such Disney greats as The Little Mermaid and Cinderella. Ask any millennial or Gen X-er, and they could probably tell you exactly how many eggs the random woman in the opening number needs (six).
The first film is essentially untouchable.
New Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos know this, and treat the first film like source material. What they’ve created is a loving homage to a classic, but also a new chapter that really embodies the spirit of the story’s heroine and what we love so much about that story. It’s difficult to say the remake is better, but here are five ways it stands apart from its predecessor.
1) This Beauty and the Beast is woke
With movies like 2013’s Frozen and 2016’s Moana, Disney has made a pronounced shift away from the traditional concept of princess movies and toward stories where its female leads have more agency. Finding “true love” with a prince charming isn’t the final goal. (My colleague Todd VanDerWerff points out that 2015’s live-action Cinderella is a sexist exception.)
Beauty and the Beast makes an effort to retain the magic of the original story, but also recognizes and addresses the latent issues — sexism, a lack of diversity, Belle’s Stockholm syndrome — that were baked into the first film. It recognizes its opportunity to incorporate balance and difference, and welcomes that opportunity with open arms.
The film’s dancing French aristocrats come in every size and color. Secondary characters, like Plumette the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Garderobe the wardrobe (Audra McDonald), are played by actresses of color and have bigger roles than they did in the animated film. Belle teaches a girl to read and displays a knack for engineering, and her captivity at the Beast’s castle is slightly rewritten in a way that gives her more agency and lessens the Beast’s role in it.
Some might argue that the new movie could have done more — that Belle could have been cast as a woman of color, that casting women of color to play the feather duster and wardrobe doesn’t really count as progress, that the “true love” ending is still sexist. But it’s undeniable that with this remake, Disney tried to make Beauty and the Beast more inclusive.
2) The special effects are stunning
Disney’s live-action version of The Jungle Book, released in 2016, is still a standard-bearer when it comes to the studio’s special effects. But Beauty and the Beast’s effects are right up there. The new movie even seems to borrow some of the snarling wolves from Jungle Book to give a couple of familiar scenes some newfound menace, especially the one where Belle’s father is attacked.
In a departure from the original movie, the characters skew more odd and weird than cute. The Enchantress’s curse is rewritten to not only change the castle’s inhabitants and servants into flatware and furniture but also to make them less human with time. If the curse runs its course, their humanity will be stripped away completely, and they will forever be dead, regular objects.
Beauty and the Beast leans into the strangeness of this scenario. Lumiere, Cogsworth, and all the rest are more startling than welcoming. Each character has a weight and a specific way of moving, and as time wears on, they stiffen and lose their personalities. This brings newfound depth and desperation to numbers like “Be Our Guest,” and adds new, welcome wrinkles to well-known characters.
3) “Gaston” is the best song
The live-action element of the new film has a pronounced effect on the soundtrack. Slower, solo songs like the titular theme “Beauty and the Beast” and the “Belle Reprise” are still beautiful, but they lose a bit of energy when translated into a live-action film. I suspect this is also what happened to Emma Watson’s Belle, a character whose pivotal scenes in the new movie are the ones where she’s most isolated, when she can’t hide behind animation.
The live action really works in the movie’s big group numbers, particularly “Gaston,” because the ensemble members can play off of one another.
It’s a rolling number that boasts an addictive energy, and it allows for lots of choreography and playfulness since the entire town is involved. It helps that Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as trusted sidekick LeFou give the movie’s best performances and have plenty solid material to work with, but the live-action format really allows all of the movie’s ensemble musical performances to shine.
4) Beauty and the Beast isn’t a shot-for-shot recreation of the original, but it’s definitely aimed at the original’s biggest fans
The marketing for Beauty and the Beast has been clever. The trailers are shot-for-shot recreations of the trailers for the original film, teasing that the remake will mirror the original. But while a few scenes are indeed duplicates, the live-action remake doesn’t strictly adhere to the original. The result is that the moments when the new film and the old one line up become little pockets of magical nostalgia.
The new movie is made for fans, many of whom are now in their 30s. And to that point, it also closes all the plot holes those fans will recognize.
The curse is changed so that the Enchantress isn’t hexing a prepubescent little boy. (The original film involved a 10-year curse that expired on the Beast/Prince’s 21st birthday.) The curse also robs the townspeople of their memories, forgetting that the castle exists. (In the first film, the villagers seemed oblivious to the royal family and servants that lived in a castle just past the edge of town.) Belle is no longer a jerk who borrows novels from a bookstore; instead, she just goes to a library.
I have a weird infatuation with these plot holes, and they were something I really wanted to snark about in the new film — but it impressively covers all of its bases.
5) Let’s talk about LeFou
I remember watching the animated Beauty and the Beast as a 9-year-old boy and liking Gaston more than any other Disney villain at the time. Now, as a grown gay man who understands Gaston’s ideal chest-to-waist ratio, the reason is a bit clearer. But Gaston’s daddy muscle bear aesthetic isn’t the only gay thing about the animated Beauty and the Beast. Remember, in Gaston’s titular song, Gaston and LeFou have this exchange:
LEFOU: Not a bit of him's scraggly or scrawny
GASTON: That's right!
And every last inch of me's covered with hair
The new film fully understands that. It explicitly makes LeFou gay, and his story unfolds in a way that is sure to inspire regret in anyone who prematurely declares the character “problematic” before seeing the movie.
But what’s more satisfying and entertaining is the way the new film further develops LeFou while maintaining the campiness of the original film. Evans and Gad are completely game, throwing themselves into the humor and silliness of the Gaston-LeFou dynamic and the blush-inducing surprises woven into songwriter Howard Ashman’s songs.
The subversiveness and cheekiness doesn’t end with Gaston and LeFou (before he’s turned into the Beast, the prince loves himself a formal gala and a smoky eye), allowing the playful spirit of the original to live on.
Beauty and the Beast will be released in theaters on March 17, 2017.