I am not sure what to make of Disney Studios’ apparent desire to remake every single one of their animated films into a live action version. I wasn’t interested in Cinderella, nor did I see 101 Dalmatians. I did see Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, as I was drawn by the CGI spectacle, and I quite enjoyed it. When I heard that a live action Beauty and the Beast was in the works, I had some interest because I love the original animated film. (I remember going to see it when it first came out, on a trip with a high school film class, and being blown away by the film.) So I was intrigued by the idea of a new version, but also as perplexed as I am any time Hollywood decides to remake a great film. I can understand remaking bad movies, in an attempt to spin a failed concept or execution into a more successful undertaking, but what is to be gained by remaking an already great movie?
This new version of Beauty and the Beast is an interesting exploration of that question. On the one hand, I freely admit that this new version is terrific. I have a lot of great things to say about it, all of which I will get into in just a moment. But is it better than the original film? Not in my opinion. It’s just different. It’s an extraordinarily well-crafted piece of work, and I had a heck of a lot of fun watching it on a humongous IMAX screen. But after seeing it, I have been wondering, what was the point? Why did so many people work so hard for so many years just to remake an already great film?
Perhaps I should say “recreate” rather than “remake,” as this new Beauty and the Beast hews extremely faithfully to the original film. There are a few tweaks here and there. They delved a little bit more into the Beast and Belle’s backstories; they changed the character of Belle’s father Maurice a bit; they tweaked Belle’s involvement with the other villagers; they gave the Beast a new song; etc. But whereas The Jungle Book was a far more complete reinvention of the story, one that took full advantage of what modern CGI can do, this film uses modern CGI not to reinvent the original movie but rather to recreate it as faithfully as they could. What changes have been made to the original film’s story are entirely superficial. (I read a LOT in the press, in advance of this film’s release, about the changes made to Belle’s backstory, how she was now more of a fighter for the other … [continued]
Remember the Walt Disney Company’s 40th animated feature, released in 2000, called Kingdom of the Sun? It was an epic tale set in the Inca empire about a selfish king who briefly switches places with a poor farmer who happens to look just like him, and an evil magician with a plot to block out the sun. The film featured the voices of David Spade, Owen Wilson, Eartha Kitt, Carla Gugino, and Harvey Fierstein, as well as six songs written for the film by Sting.
No? You don’t remember seeing that movie?
That’s because after three years of work, Disney management decided to completely rework the film, throwing out much of the material they had created (along with all six songs recorded by Sting). The film that was ultimately released to theatres was called The Emperor’s New Groove, and featured the voices of David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Wendie Malick and Patrick Warburton, with two entirely different Sting songs in the film (“Perfect World,” performed by Tom Jones, and “My Funny Friend and Me”, which played over the closing credits).
The long, torturous process by which Kingdom of the Sun became The Emperor’s New Groove was captured in Trudie Styler and John-Paul Davidson’s amazing but long-shelved documentary The Sweatbox. In addition to being a filmmaker, Trudie Styler happens to be Sting’s wife. When he agreed to be involved with the music for the film, he got the studio to agree to allow his wife to document the process. She got a lot more than she bargained for.
The first thirty-to-forty minutes of The Sweatbox unfolds as one might expect any in-depth look at the making of an animated film to go. We spend a lot of time with the film’s lead director, Roger Allers, who was a star at the studio after his work co-directing The Lion King, which had become a huge financial and critical success. We meet various other key personnel on the Disney animation team — the co-director Mark Dindal, the producers, the lead animators tasked with bringing to life the film’s main characters, and more. Meanwhile, we follow Sting and his collaborator David Hartley as they work to write and record six songs for the film.
Then, about forty minutes in, we witness the fateful day in which an early story-boarded cut of the film is screened for the heads of Disney Feature Animation, Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider. They hate the film, declare that it is not working, and begin a process of totally scrapping and reinventing huge chunks of the story. Characters are totally changed (the villager Pacha changes from a teenaged boy who looks just like the king into a heavyset married … [continued]