Like them or not, live-action fairy tales are here to stay. Alice in Wonderland was novel, Maleficent offered a twist, Cinderella was charming. The Jungle Book was a turning point. Not only did it make a billion dollars, it began a trend of scene-for-scene Disney remakes and propelled the concept of “live-action CG animals”.
Plus, Disney doesn’t have a monopoly on the fairy tale business. There were two adaptations of Snow White in 2012 and a French adaptation of Beauty and the Beast in 2014. It’s interesting since Disney was at the time preparing their own live-action version. Here’s my comparison of the two films.
Disney’s version (2017)
This film is an almost word for word remake of the 1991 animated film. There are a few added scenes to flesh out the characters and some additional comic relief, but all the iconic scenes are recognizable. The songs are reinterpreted with a few new ones thrown into the mix. Belle’s songs, sadly, are butchered with auto-tune. I would have preferred to hear Emma Watson’s true voice, even if it wasn’t perfect. I actually liked all of the new songs. I also liked the dance numbers, costumes and gorgeous sets.
I think Emma Watson was miscast in this role. Her acting was passable. She pulled off the emotional scenes where she had to act scared or sad, but she looked despondent the rest of the time. My main problem is that she didn’t have the right look. There’s an entire song dedicated to the fact that Belle is the most beautiful girl in the village. As glamorous as Emma Watson can be in fashion shoots, her Belle isn’t exactly a showstopper. Lily James as Cinderella had more charisma in her little toe.
This film is CGI-heavy. The shots of the rose-shaped castle are breathtaking, but the beast looks like a goat and the animated objects sort of clash with the rest of the film. Their musical number looks animated, not live-action. But perhaps the most distracting thing is Lumiere’s accent. Why didn’t they hire a French man if they so desperately wanted a French accent? It’s obvious Ewan McGregor does not speak French. I would have been completely fine with him playing the character in his usual accent.
French version (2014)
This is an adaptation of the original 18th century novel. In this version, Belle has siblings and the beast has a complex back story. When the beast demands a life in exchange for the rose Belle’s father stole for her, she volunteers to go herself. Several fairy tale elements are woven into the plot. There are of course no songs and the tone is more serious than in the Disney film. Belle is somber, grounded and strong-willed.
What I really like about this Belle is that she doesn’t have the superiority complex of the Disney one. The Disney film constantly feels the need to point out that Belle is the most beautiful, most special precious snowflake in the entire village. Gaston isn’t enough for her, she holds contempt for her people, and she dreams of a man who can give her everything she wants. In the French film, Belle is a lot less shallow. She’s an ordinary person who takes charge of her own destiny. Her ending is something to which we can all aspire and it solidifies the fact that Belle is not a gold-digger.
The movie has some genuinely beautiful moments. The landscapes and decors give Disney a run for its money. They are truly varied from one scene to another. It also helps that Léa Seydoux is stunning and captivating. She’s miles away from Emma Watson. The beast looks better in the face, but worse in the body. He is used in parsimony at first, which shrouds him in mystery and makes him legitimately scary.
The winner: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Hear me out!)
The French film cannot compete with the insane production value of the Disney film. Disney also offers a more streamlined story that is easy to understand from the start. Plus, it’s a musical, so the songs manage to convey the characters’ inner thoughts. Also -and I can’t believe I’ll admit this – there’s a fair amount of swoon-worthy romance between Belle and the beast when they bond over their love for books.
That being said, I much prefer Belle in the French movie. The character is more relatable and the actress gives a much more convincing performance. The French story is somewhat confusing, especially during the sluggish beginning, but things fall into place once Belle reaches the castle. There the film isn’t afraid to slow down and it feels more mysterious and atmospheric than the Disney film.
I’m still not sure if the Disney live-action remakes are fun or lazy… I loved the live-action 101 Dalmatians when I was a kid, and although I didn’t care for the acting in this year’s Beauty in the Beast, I enjoyed seeing the expensive props and costumes. I’m excited to see what Mulan and Aladdin will look like!