As a longtime fan of Disney's Beauty and the Beast (the original came out when I was 3), I was cautiously optimistic about this 2017 remake. Even though I knew the film was likely to have the flaws that most big-budget Hollywood films do, I was still unprepared for just how disappointed I would be. After seeing the remake, I went home and watched the original right away in an attempt to figure out why the new film left me feeling so flat and uninspired. Seeing the contrast between the two films made the reasons for my reaction immediately clear. I didn't even have to look past the prologue to see how the new movie fails to measure up.
The differences in the prologues of these two films perfectly demonstrate the mistakes we see repeated scene after scene in the new film:
- poor stylistic choices
- replacing emotional gravity with frivolity
- (mostly importantly) removal or change of significant lines and moments
The original film opens on a picturesque castle obscured by a charming forest landscape, then zooms in to the reveal the backstory through a beautiful stained glass tableau. By contrast, the new film opens on an obviously CGI hand picking a rose in front of a castle at night then cuts to a scene of the prince applying garishly repulsive makeup.
The contrast becomes even more apparent once the narration begins as the two narrators set very different tones for the movies. David Ogden Stiers’ voice is sincere and filled with regret, longing, and, perhaps, the slightest touch of hope. Hattie Morahan’s voice is light, expressive, and flippant, creating a sense of whimsical mockery. While the original movie tells the story of the curse in one unbroken chain of narration, the new version breaks narration after the application of the hideous makeup in order to display one of the prince’s lavish parties. At the party, a crowd of Marie Antoinettes dances to a jolting operatic number before the gathering is interrupted by the abrupt and bizarre entrance of a cloaked woman (who turns out to be the enchantress).
In the original, the old woman stands outside the door of the castle offering a rose as payment for shelter from the storm outside. In the new version, the woman blunders in unannounced, falls on the floor without so much as a word, and offers the rose simply “as a gift.” Here the narration resumes, and the prince and old woman are left to do confusing pantomimes that don’t line up with the narration at all. (The narrator says the woman pleads for shelter, but her mouth doesn’t move. The narrator says the prince tries to apologize, but his expression is a stunned stare.) All this makes suspension of disbelief difficult and an emotional connection to the story nigh impossible.
But none of what I have described damages the story so much as the changes in the narration itself. First, the new version adds a line saying the prince “taxed the village to fill his castle with the most beautiful objects and his parties with the most beautiful people.” This changes the prince’s guilt from one of omission (failure to be kind) to one of commission (taking money from his subjects to buy frivolities). This makes it harder to sympathize with the prince than before, which only serves to undermine the story, not improve it. Then, which is even worse, they remove the most important line from the original narration: “Ashamed of his monstrous form, the Beast concealed himself inside his castle with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world.” In its place, they include this line: “As days bled into years the prince and his servants were forgotten by the world, for the enchantress had erased all memory of them from the minds of the people they loved.” Here, the new version focuses on a plot point, rather than character development, and fails to plant compassion for the Beast in the hearts of the viewers.
The choice to remove this important line, which demonstrates the Beast's pain and atonement, is an astonishing one when one remembers that the story is ultimately about the Beast's rediscovery of his humanity. In fact, every change the writers made to the prologue serves to make the Beast seem less human in a movie that should be working tirelessly to make him seem more human, especially considering the fact that this Beast is made entirely (and unconvincingly) of ones and zeros. The prologue sends the film down a path from which it will never recover: one that is full of glitter and devoid of humanity.