Realtalk: Beauty and the Beast
Okay, but jokes about bad CGI wolves aside, Disney’s latest live action remake just served to remind me what didn’t work in the last few films. Keep in mind this is all my opinion and you don’t have to agree to any of it.
I could appreciate the effort they took in better explaining the lore. The classic film implied Beast could be as young as 11 when the curse took effect for them to be wasting away for “ten years” (as stated in the original Be Our Guest), and a lot of people were left puzzling as to how exactly an entire town failed to notice the ominous castle sitting on their outskirts for all those years. But as with all the other remakes Disney also attempted to flesh out the characters, usually in the form of a heavy backstory, and this is where they always seem to fall flat for me.
This is the main problem I have with live action: they seem to struggle in deciding which tone they want to run with. Do they want to prove they can play with darker and more sombre themes? Those poignant backstories and frequent deaths in the families would suggest so. But then they turn right around and try to emulate the cartoon almost frame for frame. Suddenly the action sequences, one-liners, and visual gags look too hammy and out of place, especially when juxtaposed with the aforementioned Dark Subjects. This isn’t helped by the uncanny valley characters at all.
I’m sure some kids out there find all of this enjoyable and see no problem with the new films (though personally if I saw that CG Lumiere as a child I would have run screaming out of the theatre), but all I could think as I watched Beast tear through the tower pining and singing his heart out was:
“Holy shit Disney, you should remake Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Think about it: they could play with dark themes all they wanted and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all. The animated film was already one of Disney’s heaviest, in fact I feel it’s been swept under the rug as a result of its heavier tone. The characters themselves are some of Disney’s most subdued and wouldn’t be terribly difficult to translate into live action without changing too much, and they could go nuts with the special effects and locations all they want because it’s got everything.
Medieval city? Check. Tall, ominous towers? Check. Spectacular views for breaking out into song? Check. Political/social commentary still relevant today? Check. Vibrant/fictional locales to pour their CGI budget into? Check. They’ve got one of the best villains in that movie, whether you love to hate him or just … love … him … if you’re one of those weirdos.
But that brings up another point: if they did rework it, I want them to go really dark with it. I’m talking taking cues from their friends in Germany and Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, a musical that managed to preserve a majority of the film while also capturing the weight of the original novel.
Don’t try to redeem Frollo like you did with Maleficent. Preserve all the slimy, misguided, despicable facets of his personality. Don’t gloss over the political commentary of gypsies in Paris, and highlight Clopin’s juxtaposed sides as a result–willing to do whatever it takes to survive even if it means stealing and murdering. We already have one of the most badass women out there in Esmeralda, and finally one who isn’t a damned princess that needs her sparkly dress. Give Phoebus a bigger role, give us time to really see the conflict between his role in society and his moral compass. Focus on Quasimodo’s internal struggle, torn between his curiosity and love for the outside world, but also his blind loyalty and affection to the one man who raised him his entire life.
And for f**k’s sake those gargoyles better be hallucinations to illustrate the toll a lifetime of solitude has taken on the poor guy or I am going to flip some heavy Medieval tables.
And finally Esmeralda dies. No-one gets the girl. Phoebus fails at his job, people get hurt as a result, and he can’t even save the love of his life. And Quasimodo is left utterly broken hearted and alone, with neither his father figure or his friends by his side. The movie ends as the stage play did: with our hunchback carrying the gyspy in his arms in a sad nod to the iconic “Sanctuary!” scene, walking away into the dark unknown, presumably to die as he did in the novel, with Esmeralda in his arms. A sombre Clopin, knocked back down to a beggar (if not dead as well during the seige), narrates the closing scene.
Because life sucks and that’s what you get for attempting to turn a Victor Hugo Novel into anything less than a tragedy.
TL;DR: Disney remake HoND. I double-dog-dare you.
(Oh my god I have not drawn these guys in literal ages. It felt so weird!)