Photo: Walt Disney Pictures
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

‘Beauty and the Beast’: Disney Looks to Nostalgia for New Golden Age

What I remember most from my first movie-going experience is the large cardboard cutout of The Lion King poster that stood outside the theater as my family and I went to go see the 1994 film. I honestly don’t remember watching the story of Simba unfold on the big screen. That, along with many of the other Disney classics, were watched primarily on VHS; though I promise you, my siblings and I wore those tapes out.

I know many of my friends did the same. That is because the Disney films of the late 80s and 90s feel like our films, which is why we unabashedly profess our love for them even as we continue to age beyond the alleged target age group. We’ve even updated our way of enjoying them more suited to our age with experiences like the Disney power hour drinking game.

Which is why it is both exciting and terrifying what Disney has planned over the next couple of years. With the upcoming release of the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, in theaters tomorrow, Disney will launch the third outing on its nostalgic tour designed to both entice those of my ilk with familiar and beloved classics and reintroduce those same stories to a new generation to become obsessed with. It’s a savvy business move to be sure, but is it possible that Disney could burn its bridges with its past troves of fans by repurposing classics for a sure-fire money grab?

First, we have to look at the first two entries in this new cycle of Disney films for a solid background. A remake of Cinderella was first up in 2015, followed by 2016’s The Jungle Book. Both films are an A-plus in terms of costumes and special effects, but what makes them stand out are the changes in story or presentation. In Cinderella’s case, the film ditched the musical numbers and added a stronger backstory for the wicked stepmother, played brilliantly by Cate Blanchett. The Jungle Book also lost most of its songs, aside from brief interludes of “Bare Necessities” and “I Want to Be Like You,” and a slightly altered storyline. These films did well with critics and at the box office, so we should be able to rest easy with Beauty and the Beast, right?

It is probably fair to say that Beauty and the Beast will be another gorgeously made film with a strong bill of talent behind and in front of the camera. Bill Condon is the director, with films like Dreamgirls and Gods and Monster on his resume. Then the cast is stacked with A-listers and dream casting, including Emma Watson as Belle, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, with Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Luke Evans and Dan Stevens as the Beast rounding out the cast. Not to mention Alan Menken, the man essentially behind all your favorite Disney songs, is back.

What has me worried about this remake is that unlike its predecessors, I’m not sure how much of a different story we are going to get; early reviews point to this, though the film does currently have a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Everything that has been seen in the trailers and in clips have made this new film seem like a near beat-for-beat copy of the 1991 original. Some fans have even made side-by-side comparison videos showing just that. Reports have indicated that there have been some tweaks to characters, and there will even be a couple of new songs, but they certainly have a tall order in living up to their contemporaries like “Belle,” “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston.”

And Beauty and the Beast is just step one in what will be a long line of tests for Disney. Live-action remakes of Mulan, Dumbo, Aladdin and even The Lion King are being planned. With each one, fervor will be high, but so will nerves.

I am excited for Beauty and the Beast, and I hope it will emulate the magic and sheer joy that I know many felt when watching the original animated film. But when an entire generation feels a connection to a story like mine does with the 90s Disney films, the studio is skating on thin ice. Just ask George Lucas how much a fan base can react when it feels like it’s been wronged.

Beauty and the Beast opens in theaters on Friday, March 17.

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Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a Philly-born, NoVA-raised writer who currently works as a web editor for NewBay Media. He is passionate about film and theater, and has enjoyed rediscovering what the DC area has to offer since he moved back after a few years in Los Angeles.