A Tale as Old as Time: Beauty and the Beast’s Magical First Trailer

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The last few months of the year are an exciting time for the movies.  The summer blockbusters that you missed in theaters are finally out on home video, the year end “best movies” are starting to trickle out and all roads lead to the Oscars.

With this latest batch of movies to theaters comes a new set of trailers: our first real look at what kind of movies we can expect from 2017.  Many movie fans just got their first look at one of the most anticipated films of the coming year: Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson.

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The only words for the trailer are, appropriately enough, “magical.”  From the twisted woods to the lavish castle to the darkened village square lit by flickering torches, the 1991 classic is perfectly realized in the live-action film.

Some have complained that the titular Beast isn’t, well, bestial enough.  He isn’t the hulking, muscular brute from the cartoon: all tooth and claw.  But while that seems to be a sticking point for some of the Disney fanbase, I’m entranced by his sinewy redesign that calls to mind the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth.

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The original design was a veritable who’s who of the animal kingdom: a chimera borrowing the choices bits from buffalo, bears, gorillas, lions, boars and wolves.  This beast, however, has been more selectively curated, favoring the sleeker beasts to the bulkier ones.

In a lot of respects, I prefer this version.  Sure, it’s less visceral — something that was always cool about the animated character — but it also suggests something more of the boy who brashly banished the old beggar woman from his doorstep: a humanity that needs to be teased out rather than excavated wholesale.

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I’m even convinced that the original version would not work in live-action.  One of the advantages to animation is the sometimes non-literal relation that a character has to its environment.  Nothing in real life could ever match the terrifying physical exaggeration possible in a cartoon.

If an animated character or setting extorts itself beyond what is actually possible, we can accept it.  It’s part of the heightened style of that medium.  Even when augmented by CGI, however, an in-camera setting is bound by the laws of plausibility.  If the image stretches to far from what is expected from a real-world environment, we’re drawn out of the experience.  This more modest interpretation of the Beast both looks better in-Camera and suggests a slightly different take on the time-tested narrative, both of which I am more than happy to accept.

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In fact, the only questionable images from the entire trailer were the porcelain faces of Mrs. Potts and Chip.  The rest of the transfigured servants looked far better than I expected: wrought iron faces molded into deeply emotive expressions.  The painted-on faces of the fine china, however, transgress on the uncanny valley (where the non-Human begins to look offputtingly Human).  No matter how many second chances I give them when rewatching the trailer, they always look too much like the too-thinly stretched face of Lady Casandra from Doctor Who.

Disney has seemingly perfected the art of the live-action fairy tale.  2013’s Maleficent was an intelligent reimaging of the animated classic.  2014’s Cinderella was, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best movies to come out that year.  This year’s Jungle Book took a Disney classic that I had never cared about and transformed it into the kind of thrilling adventure that the actual summer season sorely lacked.  Beauty and the Beast looks to be just as lovingly crafted as these, and has a far better narrative pedigree.

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