So the new Beauty and the Beast is getting tons of positive buzz from reviewers and movie goers and, since I did watch it myself, I have to concur. The newest live action version of the Walt Disney animated classic is pretty good. It’s good because, well, the original 1991 film was good and The House of Mouse was wise enough not to really mess around with the original’s formula. It followed the story almost beat for beat but made some adjustments when they felt necessary. Essentially, they didn’t try to fix was wasn’t broken but they did change things up to make it stand out like its own film and not just some remake out to capitalize on nostalgia… even if that’s exactly what they’re doing!
While both films are essentially cut from the same cloth, there is the question that inevitably will pop up because of this: which one is better? Honestly, this is really a difficult choice for me as, unlike Disney’s previous live action outings, Beauty and the Beast is a favorite of mine. I didn’t care for both Jungle Book adaptions. Maleficent is just a weird retelling of Sleeping Beauty told in a kind of “unreliable narrator” structure. And Cinderella’s live-action remake was a huge mixed bag.
But Beauty and the Beast, the 1991 animated film, was already very good and Disney did a fantastic job with the live-action remake. So much so that I think some fans may even think of this version as their favorite telling of the story. So, which is better? Well, let’s go break down the versions into different components and check out which one eventually comes out on top!
Oh, and since I’ll have to be talking about some specifics here, there will be SPOILERS for both the animated film and the live action version.
Animation, Design and overall Aesthetic
Let’s go first to the overall visual look of both versions. Both the animated and the live action versions look positively stunning in their own right. I will give props to Disney to actually making all of the sets needed for this fantasy epic of a story. It’s much easier to simply draw a huge castle and an entire town filled with people. Making it real is the hard part! However, Disney pulled off a really good job in bringing the animated world of Beauty and the Beast to life! However, while the live action version looks great, it just pales to comparison on the grand look of the animated version. The animated world is just so colorful and beautiful to look at, much more than the someone muted look of the live action version.
But what makes the animated version much better when it comes to visual appeal are the designs of the animated characters. I can appreciate the more fanciful look of Lumiere and Cogsworth, but they just don’t look all that good. Even the look of the new Beast is kind of unnerving as it’s obvious that the has a really human face! In the animated version, he looks more animal than anything else. But the live action’s “human face” visual just makes him look more like a deformed, hairy person than an actual ferocious Beast.
The Beast in the animated version was much more “beastly” by far. They even made him walk on all fours at times, making him much more of an animal, which in turn made him much more harder to think of like a person. The new Beast is always standing upright and, as I mentioned, looks like a really hairy guy.
So, point goes to the animated 1991 movie for this!
Animated = 1 / Live-Action = 0
Beauty and the Beast wasn’t the first time Disney “Disney-fy” a fairy tale. If you’ve read the original fairy tale, there is no mention of the servants in Beast’s castle as they’re all invisible (like all good servants should be?). But Disney wisely decided to make the castle more lively by giving the Beast loyal servants and giving us some lovable characters like Lumiere and Cogsworth and some characters you can loathe, like Chip. Oh, God, I hated Chip when I was a kid and the live action version didn’t change my opinion on the character.
While both versions do have essentially the same supporting cast of characters, the live action version does attempt to add a few more personality and backstory to them. Lumiere’s affair with the duster Plumette is much more at the forefront. The wardrobe in Belle’s room is now married to a harpsichord and the two haven’t seen each other since being cursed. I actually thought that was a really nice touch which made their reunion all the more sweeter. And it’s not just the characters in the castle that were infused with personality. Some of the townspeople are infused with newer quirks, like the three dolts that are seemingly infatuated with Belle. Even Belle’s father Maurice is a little more than just a distraught patriarch devastated by the loss of her daughter to the Beast.
But the biggest change has to be with Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou. In the 1991 film, he was just your typical bozo sidekick who just blindly worships Gaston for his strength and his looks. However, in the live action film, there’s a little more to it than that. Although it’s never really said outright, it’s apparent that Le Fou is homosexual and has the hots for Gaston. I understand that this has ruffled the feathers of some fans but, honestly, I liked this little addition to the character. Also, LeFou is given much more of a spine here as he actually kind of switches sides at the end. I will also give credit to Josh Gad’s great performance as the character as, while he still captures the spirit of the original animated character, he does manage to add a new twist and actually make LeFou more like a human than the caricature that he was. Good on you, Josh Gad!
Point goes to the live-action version here!
Animated = 1 / Live-Action = 1
But what a supporting cast without the main characters. Thankfully, both versions have pretty strong leads in their own right. Their primary characteristics are still very evident. Belle is a forward thinker and smart, making her look peculiar in the eyes of the townsfolk. The Beast is still kind of a brute and doesn’t really know how to act in front of people because of his long isolation. Gaston is still a bit of a douche. So no really radical changes. However, they do make a lot of little tweaks to them in the new film, which made them a little more fleshed out in the live action version.
Emma Watson’s version of Belle isn’t a real departure from the animated version but they do try to enforce how odd she is in the live action version a little bit more. For one, she can read, which was pretty amazing apparently in the town as the gets berated for trying to teach a little girl to read. Also, Emma Watson was a great choice to play Bella as, while she doesn’t look like the animated version, she does have a grace to her that makes her fit well with Belle’s general personality. Okay, her singing voice does sound a little auto-tuned, which can’t be helped. But still, it’s a good enough performance overall by her.
Unfortunately, the new Beast doesn’t fare better than Emma Waston’s new version of Belle. For one, the live action Beast comes off more like a doofus more than anything else. At the start, he does come off as fearsome and scary. But, by the middle of the film, that ferocity just vanishes, leaving behind a rather timid creature. I guess it’s supposed to reinforce that he’s still a human but, in the original, he really lets the Beast in him come through, making it seem like he’s trying to fight off the feeling of becoming a creature he’s becoming. While I did buy into this new Beast, I just wish he was on par with the original.
It’s Luke Wilson’s portrayal of Gaston that breaks the tie regarding the main characters. And that’s because the new live action version fixes one of my biggest issues with the animated version: Gaston didn’t deserve to die. Sure, he’s a jerk and wants to marry Belle because he’s just after her looks. Sure, he also did try to lock up Maurice in an asylum in the animated version as well and did incite the crowd to go hunt the Beast when he realized that Belle was in love with the creature. Yes, those are despicable acts but I never felt he needed to die a horrible death. I mean, he was such a funny guy at the start of the film! Why did he get such a horrible and undignified death?
The live action version does fix that because he does an extra despicable act which shows that he is willing to do more just to get his way. After Maurice returns from the castle and asks the villagers to help him rescue Belle from the castle. Gaston tries to get on the good side of Belle’s father by “helping” him go to the castle. After letting the cat out of the bag that he’s only doing so to curry favor with him, Gaston actually punches out Maurice and leaves him in the forest to be eaten by wolves!
While the live action Gaston does have a few laughs, he isn’t the comedic relief character he was in the animated version. He’s much more darker in the live action release so his death does seem to be more justifiable here. So, another point to the 2017 version!
Animated = 1 / Live-Action = 2
While the characters in Beauty and the Beast are indeed noteworthy, what made the original a classic was the really memorable soundtrack it had. The live action version should’ve knocked the socks off the original version because, not only does it have all of the songs from the original film, but the ones from the Broadway musical as well!
So why do I still like the music in the original version better?
Well, for a couple of reasons. First, while the new songs are really, really good and it’s generally a thrill to hear something different in a movie that already has a phenomenal soundtrack, they’re just there to convey the emotion of the characters at the moment. That’s fine and all. But the original songs felt like there was more happening because there’s a story being told in the songs.
Take for example Gaston’s Song. It’s there because LeFou wants to cheer up Gaston. The opening song, aptly titled Belle, is there to introduce the character and tell us what she’s all about. The song Something There is showing the viewers that there are feeling developing between Belle and the Beast. The title song is the culmination of their blooming relationship. Even the song Be Our Guest, which is actually the most unnecessary and elaborate song number in the animated film is actually kind of important because, not only does it show that the servants are so happy to have someone to actually serve again, but it’s also a way to try to keep Belle happy so that she can break the curse.
The revised versions of the songs in the live action movie also suffers from being kind of overproduced. They tried to add some subtle stuff in the older songs and try to even make them kind of longer as if it was a Broadway musical. However, like I mentioned before, it’s like they were trying to add more without really integrating them to make the changes seem important. It’s like a case of more being better and it doesn’t really work all that well.
And, I will be frank here, the singing in the live action version just isn’t all that great. I’ve mentioned Emma Watson’s singing is passable. But that’s the way I could describe all of the singing for the rest of the cast. No one really lands their notes flawlessly and that’s understandable as most of the cast aren’t noted for their singing ability. The songs are still good but singing in the original animated film just sounds better because most of the people on the songs are pros.
While I will buy the soundtrack of the newer version, I still think the songs in the original animated version sound better. Point goes to the old version!
Animated = 2 / Live-Action = 2
Here’s the tiebreaker! With 2 points each for the 1991 animated version and the 2017 live action, it all boils down to the overall story. Which version tells a better story.
The animated Beauty and the Beast was a generally simple story as it was made for a target demographic of children. There are no surprises and you know, by the end, Belle will be able to break the curse. The live action version is a little bit more complicated and tackles some sidestories that were never explored in the 1991 animated film, such as what happened to Belle’s mother or what happened to the Beast when he was young.
They also develop the budding romance between Belle and the Beast much better in the live action version as they both bond over their love of books and reading. In the original version, the Beast just has a lot of books and he gives the library to Belle as a gift. At least in the live action version, it appears that he’s actually read all of them because he actually enjoys reading like Belle! That gives them something in common, which makes it much more believable that they would get along really well as they can talk about something they both like.
But, while the romance is handled much better in the live action film, the newer additions kind of fall flat and don’t add much to the story. The revelation that Belle’s mother died during the Black Plague kind of explains why they live in a small, backwater town, away from any danger, but it doesn’t add anything to Belle’s personality and this revelation doesn’t change anything. Having Mrs. Potts actually have a husband who lives in town is nice but, once again, doesn’t add anything as well. Making Belle someone who can invent something, like a medieval washing machine, is never used ever again. Oh, and the live action version gives the Beast a book that can transport him anywhere in the world, which is only used a total of one time! What a waste of such a great (plot) device!
The original animated classic eschews using complicated subplots and is a much better film as there are no distractions and keeps the focus on the main story. I wouldn’t say the live action film is a bad film because of all of the additional subplots but it doesn’t make the movie any better and actually feels like extra padding to make the film longer and a little directionless at times.
With this, the final point goes to the 1991 animated classic!
Animated = 3 / Live-Action = 2
I will say I truly enjoyed the new live action version of Beauty and the Beast. It’s truly a great movie and I can totally understand if someone would prefer it to the original animated film. However, for me, the animated version just edges out the live action version just a tad.
THE WINNER: The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast!
Which version of Beauty and the Beast is better in your opinion? Let me know in the comments section below!