By Sunniva Midtskogen
When the new live-action Beauty and the Beast movie came out in theatres this autumn it waltzed right onto the top of all the lists. It is one of the highest grossing films in history, the most-seen film of 2017 and it has made a dazzling amount of money. Why? Why are people all around the world so keen to go and see a movie where we all know the story?
Disney is on quite the roll. We have already seen Cinderella, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book being remade into live-action films, and Disney has promised many more to come, with Mulan scheduled for 2018. But if we think about it, this is kind of what Disney does – they remake stuff. The majority of their films are adaptations from books or fairy tales. So instead of copying someone else, they are now copying themselves copying someone else.
But it isn’t only Disney that’s doing this. This year Agatha Christie’s famous A Murder on the Orient Express is being redone, Netflix has remodelled Full House into Fuller House, Spider-Man has been both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, and You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan was just a modern twist on the 1940 movie The Shop Around The Corner.
There are many reasons for why movies are being remade this way. Some films are redone with a gender twist to show female empowerment (Ghostbusters), some are done because they are interesting to think about in the context of our modern society (You’ve Got Mail), and some just require a faster pace to suit the modern audience (Disturbia, a remake of Hitchcock’s Rear Window). And then there are some, like Spider-Man, which Sony has to keep putting out there or they will lose the rights for Spider-Man back to Marvel.
I feel like with Hollywood you can pretty much be certain it’s all about the money. But I also think that there is a reason why stories are being retold, reworked and reshown. Some claim all stories have already been told, that each story is just a different version of the same basic seven plots. But if we think back to before the paper press and before book binding, the way that we spread stories was by telling them and by other people retelling them. There was no ownership or copyright the way there is now. Stories grew and changed depending on who was telling them, so the art back then was not the writing of the story, but the telling of it. This is exactly what movie directors are: they are visionaries, not writers. They don’t make the story, they tell it.
Now I think the story still comes secondary to the storytelling. When Avatar came out a lot of people said they didn’t like it that much, it was just another Pocahontas-story. I thought it was beautiful; the world they created in the film was so wondrous that I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film. And there is always something new to take from a remake, if it is a shift in the environment, if it is a gender swap, if the characters are given different voices, if it is toned down or built up – the possible ways a story can be tweaked and twisted are endless. So this is why I will go and watch a movie like Beauty and the Beast, because it is a story that I know I like but I am excited and curious to see how it will be told this time.
Feature image credit: Grace Helmer