Beauty and the Beast is a tale for the ages. We’ve read it in fairytale books and watched it in numerous TV and movie adaptations. Maybe the most memorable of this classic was the iconic 1991 Disney animation. With its infectious songs and beautiful graphics, the film entered the popular mainstream worldwide.
Now, Disney is reviving its 1991 Beauty and the Beast rendition with live action heroes, making this Disney’s latest live action fairytale production, but by no means its last.
The film opens the same way as its 1991 predecessor. Emma Watson inhabits the role of Belle, the iconic character from the 1991 animated film. She says live action fairytales are likely to draw people of all ages into the theaters.
“As a child you love Disney, but as an adult you still love Disney because it sort of connects you with that childlike feeling that everything is going to be OK and there’s hope in the world,” Watson said.
$300 million investment
It was this nostalgia that made Disney invest $300 million in this lavish musical, with Oscar winning filmmaker Bill Condon at the helm. The film offers background stories that add depth to their characters, such as Belle.
“It really was the first modern Disney heroine,” the filmmaker said. “A Disney princess who doesn’t want to be a princess, who doesn’t care about finding the prince. Someone who’s more interested in books and seeing the world and kind of figuring out who she is than in finding a guy and getting married. She happens to do those things by the end, but it’s not because that’s her main interest.”
Watson says the evolution of the romance between Belle and the Beast also is more complex than it was in its previous incarnations.
“Beast and Belle really dislike each other at the beginning, they really don’t get on, and then they form a friendship and then they fall in love,” she said.
Wealth of talent
Apart from Watson, the film includes a long list of famous actors. Kevin Klein interprets Belle’s quirky father. Ewan McGreggor, who plays the enchanted candelabra, and others lend their voices to digitally generated characters.
New songs were added to the original ones by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Such a wealth of raw talent in acting, production, costumes and music bolstered Disney’s decision to take the financial gamble. It also helped that the studio tested the market with a 90-second teaser trailer that generated a record 92 million views.
This is not the first time Disney has turned a beloved animated fairytale into a live action version.
Others became live action
The Jungle Book by acclaimed filmmaker Jon Favreau became a box office hit, received broad critical acclaim and won an Academy award. The jungle animals, all computer generated characters, provided a darker nuance to the story of Mowgli, the mancub who is raised by wolves and embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
Similarly, Maleficent — the dark fairy who wishes Princess Aurora into an endless sleep in Sleeping Beauty — got her own movie, with Angelina Jolie as the title character in Disney’s live 2014 action film. Scary and alluring, she is the three-dimensional character with an ax to grind that appeals to adults and children alike.
Disney is embracing the darker, more adult formula even at the cost of controversy. In Beauty and the Beast, it inserts a gay character in Le Fou, played by Josh Gad, the sidekick of handsome and conceited Gaston, interpreted by Luke Evans. The character interplay, although completely innocuous, led Malaysia to shelve the film.
Disney seems undaunted by these reactions, however, and continues with plans to turn at least a dozen iconic animated Disney films into live action musicals. Beauty and the Beast will be the most significant testing ground when it opens worldwide March 17.