New ‘Beauty and the Beast' Puts Disney Classic to the Test

Much of the recent run-up to Friday's premier of the live-action rendering of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" centers on the "nice, exclusively gay moment" reportedly featuring villain Gaston's sidekick, LeFou.

Credit Disney with refusing to censor the still-unseen scene – mere word of which prompted hand wringing from Malaysia to Russia to Alabama.

The flap hasn't stopped the flick from racking up record advance ticket sales for a family film. That's appropriate: The original 1991 "Beauty and the Beast," despite the title of its signature production number, succeeded most in making generations of fans feel more like family than mere guests.

The tension surrounding the opening of the film isn't highest over the groundbreaking revelation about LeFou, but whether, amid huge expectations, the tale as old as time will as play well the second time around.

Or, in other words: The live-action version of "Beauty and the Beast" will put Disney's service to the test like no other film since the debut of the studio’s first full-length animated musical, "Snow White," nearly 80 years ago.

The two films – toss-ups for the greatest Disney animated musicals of all – opened new worlds for the genre, raising hand-drawn motion pictures to new heights of sophistication during their respective eras. The appeal of both movies transcends age and years.

For decades, "Snow White" found new audiences in theatrical re-releases every few years until the early 1990s. "Beauty and the Beast" arrived in time for the home video revolution, heading to VHS less than a year after its cinematic debut and sending its reign as a classic into fast-forward.

The youngest original fans, now pushing 30, came of age in an era of CGI filmmaking epitomized by the success of the "Harry Potter" movie series, featuring Emma Watson, who plays Belle in the "B&B" reboot.

She's not known – yet – for her musical chops. But Watson, more than any other actress, grew up before our eyes in movies where she couldn't see much of the magic unfolding around her.

The magic of "Beauty and the Beast" isn't in the human characters as much as the household objects in the Beast's lair – Chip, Mrs. Potts, Cogsworth and the rest. But can Lumiere and Co. possibly shine as bright in a live-action-special-effects mash-up?

Disney is asking fans, as Belle was asked, to take a chance on the unknown – and risk crushing disappointment if the new film doesn't live up to the ingrained memories of the not-so-old original. We'll soon see, once again, whether beauty is found within.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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