Beauty and the Beast (opening March 17) is looking likely to be one of Disney’s biggest films ever, with pre-ticket sales exceeding those of Finding Dory and Captain America: Civil War. But as the New York Times pointed out in a feature story on Wednesday, there are countless ways that the remake — which cost a massive $300 million to make and market — might have misfired.
Unlike the previous Disney animated films that inspired live-action remakes (including Cinderella and The Jungle Book), 1991’s Beauty and the Beast is a relatively recent creation that many fans still know by heart. Early in production, Disney set out to make the film its own beast, so to speak, by eliminating the songs. But director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) and the success of Frozen persuaded Disney that a live-action musical might pay off. “They saw with Frozen that there could be a massive international audience for musicals,” Condon told the Times. Adding computer-animated objects and using motion-capture technology for the Beast (Dan Stevens) gave the film a modern spin, along with script revisions and new songs that deepened the characters.
Still, the filmmakers had to walk an extremely fine line between honoring people’s memories of the original film and creating a new version that would attract audiences for different reasons. The Times noted, for example, the hand-wringing that occurred when concept art for Mrs. Potts, the talking teapot (voiced originally by Angela Lansbury and in the new film by Emma Thompson), leaked online. Some fans were devastated that the CG character’s painted-on face bore little resemblance to the original design. “We wanted to keep the spout nose, we really did,” Condon said. “But no matter what we tried, she just looked like a pig.” The grumbling disappeared as more footage of the film was released. And the latest controversy, over the character of LeFou (Josh Gad) being gay in the remake, seems to be fading as well. The early reviews have been positive, though whether the film lives up to its Best Picture-nominated predecessor is a point of contention.
So why is Disney so committed to these live-action remakes of movies we all know so well? Disney’s president of production, Sean Bailey, pointed out that Walt Disney himself was remaking beloved classics in a new medium when he first started animating fairytales. “We never want to say, ‘Well, here it is again,’” he said of the new slate of remakes, which will include The Little Mermaid, Mulan, The Lion King, and Dumbo, among others. Read the full Times piece here.
Watch a scene from ‘Beauty and the Beast:’