beauty and the beast

Change That Works: The Castle—It’s Alive!

In the 1991 film, it’s suggested that the Beast and his servants aren’t the only things that transformed due to the enchantress’s spell. The whole castle has fallen under this dark magic, growing grim and forbidding to the outside world. When the spell is lifted at the end, the castle, its gargoyle-esque parapets, and even the gloomy weather surrounding the area turns into a bright, inviting, and stately mansion. The same is true in the live-action film, but it’s literalized more directly, in a novel fashion. When each petal of the enchanted rose falls, housed in a fancy glass jar, it’s not just that the Beast knows his time is running out: it’s that the castle falls into further disrepair, and that the servants grow further away from their human states.

This is one of the more subtle expansions within the story, and arguably one of the strongest. In this version of the story, the curse that the enchantress places on the young, vain Prince impacts the entire town, not just him and his servants. (An unnecessary aspect of this is that the enchantress is present throughout the film, hidden in plain sight as a common beggar woman, as opposed to the comically unpleasant-looking hag in the prologue.) As much as the CGI versions of the servants-turned-household-objects may be visually unappealing, when another rose petal falls and their bodies essentially move one closer to being fully inanimate, it’s striking. In these moments, Condon creates the right type of palpable, body-horror-esque dread the characters feel towards their shared predicament.

The castle falls apart, brick by brick, as the story progresses, but it all comes literally crumbling down in the climax. Its disrepair mirrors that of the Beast’s psyche, but the way each pillar, staircase, and trellis breaks apart as the Beast and Gaston have their gruesome showdown goes further than the animated film does. When Gaston shoots the Beast, leaving him at death’s door, he seals his own fate: the last rose petal falls concurrently, and the walkway on which he’s standing crumbles, leading him to his death. In this sense, it’s not just that the servants bring household objects to life. The castle itself is almost a living, breathing entity, as trapped as the Beast himself is. In a film that otherwise spells out many of its major themes, the castle’s livelihood and its crumbling façade is a fascinating, mostly unspoken, and very welcome grace note.

Beauty and the Beast Featurette

Change That Doesn’t Work: The Beast’s Lack of Kindness 

The Beast, when Belle first meets him both in the animated and live-action versions of this story, is callous and cruel: he’s imprisoned a helpless old man for meaningless offenses and isn’t much bothered when she tries to take his place. However, the Beast’s lack of kindness extends a bit more in the live-action film in ways that don’t seem necessary, turning the character even colder than before.

To wit: in the animated film, Belle switches places with Maurice and is heartbroken when she isn’t able to say goodbye to her father, but is at least given her own room by the Beast after he relents a bit due to the guilt he feels. In the live-action film, Maurice refuses to let his daughter switch places with him; Belle is able to get the Beast to give her a minute alone to say goodbye, during which she tricks her old man into exiting his cell and letting her step in. Afterwards, she does get her own suite…because Lumiere (voiced by Ewan McGregor, whose Maurice Chevalier-esque French accent needs a lot of work) frees her and brings her to the room himself. When the Beast eventually finds out, he’s furious.

Here’s another example: in the animated film, as Belle and the Beast grow closer to each other, the Beast actively decides to give her a gift. The gift comes in the form of his gigantic library, with rows upon rows upon rows of books, far more than she may have read in the village where she lives. Belle, ever the bookworm, is of course dazzled and thrilled. In this version, the Beast does show off his library to a duly impressed Belle, but he does so without intending to present it as a gift. He basically walks her into the library, after having surprised her with his knowledge of (and mansplain-y distaste for) the works of William Shakespeare. Once the Beast realizes how much of an impact this library has on Belle—whose local library is, in the live-action version, a group of ten or so volumes that she’s likely read many times—he lets her take whatever she wants.

Both of these decisions are minor changes, but they speak to the unresolved callousness that the Beast displays in this version. The live-action Beauty and the Beast is 45 minutes longer than the animated film, which would seem to allow the screenwriters more time to develop the romantic relationship between the leads. (Belle, headstrong in the animated film, is a bit fiercer here and more direct at first regarding her antipathy towards her captor.) Instead, with changes like this, the Beast seems colder in ways that don’t allow for Belle to gradually fall in love with him. Dan Stevens is well-cast as the Beast, and does a solid job of transforming from a shallow, dismissive jerk into a kind and gentle hero, though he kind of sells the shallowness a bit too well.

In some sense, it tracks with how we first meet the Prince: the new version of the prologue eschews the stained-glass artistry from the animated film, instead depicting him as a be-wigged fop at the center of an excessively gaudy ball whose disdain towards the enchantress in her haggardly form seems natural. Thus, when the Beast shows off his library as if it’s no big thing, it’s a leftover bit of the same shrugging condescension that got him in trouble in the first place. That’s all well and good, but in the animated film, the Beast gifting his library to Belle is a sign that, monster or not, he’s actively trying to be a kinder and more thoughtful soul. Here, by not showing off the library or allowing Belle her own, non-prison-cell-like space, the Beast is simply kind of a dick when he’s supposed to be shining through.

Those changes represent the new Beauty and the Beast in a microcosm. Many of the elements of the original animated film have been ported over to this new, fancier, gaudier-looking version of the story, but they’ve been tweaked just enough to try to be different. But as much as Bill Condon and Disney may have wanted to turn this story into something new, it is still a tale as old as time. And it’s a tale that has largely been told better before.

Pages: Previous page 1 2 3

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.