Beauty and the Beast - William Toti

When my daughter was a little girl, her favorite movie was Beauty and the Beast. We watched it together many times when she was growing up, to the point where she essentially had it memorized, something only a child could do. She could recite every line, sing every phase, from the opening credits to nearly the end of the movie. It was a major source of pleasure in her young live.

She’s an adult now, but the movie still brings her fond memories. So the thought of a new, live action version of Beauty was exciting to my family. As a result, we decided we would all get together, my wife, our daughter, her husband, our son, and see the new version this weekend. We had been looking forward to this for months.

Upon seeing it, we were profoundly disappointed. I, for one, could not understand how Disney could cast a lead character whose acting was so wooden (particularly in the opening scenes) and who needed so much auto-tune to correct her weak voice, that the technology itself became a distraction. Most of the characters were mere ghosts of the profoundly great singers and actors who portrayed the original characters. But the worst of them was Belle herself.

I was dumbfounded by the casting decisions. That is, until my kids explained that the lead actor, Emma Watson, had played in all the Harry Potter movies.

Suddenly it made sense. “Children” of my daughter’s generation were already invested in the story. Those tickets were sold before the movie was even released.

If the studio was going to sell the story to today’s children, they needed a hook. And what better hook than to cast a woman who today’s kids had already grown to know in the Harry Potter movies?

In other words, the studio was betting that the draw from Harry Potter would outweigh the negative aspects of how the actress played the lead character. After all, nobody would know how bad she was in the role until they had purchased their tickets and were sitting in the theater. But I don’t think that this new version will cause the same degree of devotion and, well, love for the characters and the movie that the earlier version did.

What’s all this have to do with photography?

Photographers are also sometimes driven to allow commercial interests override their creative or artistic instincts. “Don’t you think that would sell better if the sky was just a bit more saturated?” “I’m looking for something like Peter Lik meets Galen Rowell.” “Commercial buyers are infatuated by abstracts these days. Can you do some of that?”

Let me be clear: just like there was nothing wrong in casting Emma Watson to draw in a younger audience to an old movie, there is nothing wrong with making photographic adjustments for commercial purposes. Even photographers have to eat.

But if you’re like me, these adjustments leave you cold. The emotion simply isn’t there.

Getting back to Beauty, in the end, I was actually a bit comforted that the new movie didn’t have the same emotional impact as the original. Nothing can or should replace those memories. When we watch the original, my daughter is eight years old again, 9/11 hasn’t happened yet, and both the world and I are substantially younger.

Who would want to replace that?

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