The Retelling as Old as Time


Disney’s live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast began drawing praise from the moment the film’s cast was announced. Eager fans of the animated film (and the Broadway musical adapted from said film) greeted the discussion of a live-action remake with considerably more enthusiasm than many other Disney live-action remakes have received. Although Disney rarely suffers at the box office, online forums and dinner party debates often spotlight the redundant nature of remaking a story already told in an animated tale from the same studio.

Many, even the most dedicated Disney fans, perceive the system as demonstrating a lack of originality. To be fair, Disney hasn’t been strikingly original in quite some time. Most of its biggest hits are based off of popular fairytales that have been watered down for palatability to a mass audience. The difference between Disney and a significant portion of its competition, however, is that Disney caters to its chosen audience very, very well, and the retold fairytales have just enough originality to make them stand out against comparable retellings. Series like Once Upon a Time don’t just capitalize on the traditional stories, but on Disney’s specific interpretations of those stories. Although plenty of other studios have made animated features starring Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella (ESPECIALLY Cinderella), the Disney versions are usually the first, and often the only animated princess movies we think of for those characters. Except for Cinderella. Everyone and their cousin has made an adaptation of Cinderella.

Another point of contention is that live-action remakes are nothing more than pocket-padding for the Disney big-wigs. I would be more inclined to argue against this point if Disney had not developed a habit of grabbing any available, popular franchise and gulping down the income. The live-action remakes of classic Disney films are really just the entertainment version of buying a new candle fragrance from your favorite shop. If the shop sells nothing but candles, they know their tried and true scents will bring in the old crowd, but to lure new customers and grow the business, they have to try something new. Using elements from an old scent in a new fragrance makes a lot of sense. Although Disney still makes plenty of money from the animated originals (and their merchandizing), the live-action remakes play into the older audience’s fond memories of the animated classics while entertaining children with characters, effects, and plots streamlined for the Twenty-First Century.

As I said, though, Disney’s habit of building on the success of others has left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth (even though Disney is doing a stellar job with both Star Wars and the MCU).

So far Beauty and the Beast has faced a lot less criticism than many of its predecessors. It’s hard to have anything but glowing hope for a film starring Emma Watson, Sir Ian McKellen, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, and Emma Thompson. We will have to wait until next year to make any kind of serious judgment about the film, but until then we can poke and fuss over the teaser trailer to our hearts’ content.

M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.

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