Synopsis – An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.
My Take – With all their other properties such as Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar and their own Animation studio doing so well, it seems the main branch at Disney has suddenly found themselves becoming fixated on remaking, rebooting, or re-imaging nearly all of their older successful film division, primarily due to the massive success of 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland“. My very own expectations were very much mixed going to see this live-action retelling, having thoroughly enjoyed 2015’s ‘Cinderella‘ and 2016’s ‘The Jungle Book’ (which were visually gorgeous and combined old and new while retaining the spirits of their animated counterparts), mainly, if you consider the plot, it’s no easy task adapting author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve‘s original French story, with the wrong notion, the whole story of a romance between a girl and her captor could easily come across as creepy – Stockholm Syndrome parading as a fairy tale! And also because the 1991 animated film was never my favorite Disney film, probably because I was your stereotypical male child who craved action scenes over matters of the tender heart and gorgeous music (Yup, Aladdin will always be my favorite). Yet, to be fair, I kept an open mind, as this brand-new incarnation of the classic tale, directed by Bill Condon, has a great deal going for it & makes a good case for updating the tale with more modern sensibilities. The film is beautifully performed and designed, and there’s plenty of fun (and nostalgia) awaiting fans of its animated predecessor. However, it seems like 26 years late the studio has failed to capture the essence which made the 1991 film such a success. No the film is not half as bad as some reviews are making it out to be, it just never feels quite as effortless or natural in telling its story, while there is magic here, it’s tough to shake the feeling that it’s engineered, not organic – that it grazes rather than grabs the heart. It’s in these details where this remake falls short. While it’s essentially a shot for shot remake of the original there are a few things added. And every single thing added to this that didn’t exist in the original feel so out of place and overly convoluted that it’s hard to take them seriously.
The story follows Belle (Emma Watson), a bookish, resourceful young lady who’s never really fit into her little French village, who despite being constantly plagued by the town’s most famous and self obsessed bachelor Gaston (Luke Evans) and his proposal to marry her, she hankers for adventure – but gets more than she bargained for when her inventor father Maurice (Kevin Kline) stumbles into a forgotten castle, and upon Belle’s request steals a rose from its garden and ends up becoming a prisoner there. After trading places with her dad, Belle gets to know the inhabitants of the castle: a surly, fearsome Beast (Dan Stevens) and a host of living household appliances and furniture, all of them living in fear that they will never be free of the curse that has robbed them of their humanity, with the only hope that Belle can free them. This film is not terrible, but it left me feeling deeply unsatisfied. I’m not placated by a mere nostalgia-driven rehash – I actually want a good film, one good enough to stand on its own. That is where this film fails to deliver. Although a film’s watch-ability may not be directly implied by its Academy Award nods, there is a reason why the 1991 version became the first animated feature film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture category. That version had everything: gorgeous animation, songs of warmth and affection, tremendous voice acting, and a story that was both traditional and far-ahead of its time. Here, the story line is virtually unchanged, and in fact most of the scenes and dialogue are lifted directly from the 1991 film. However, what was left out was the real heart and soul of the original, the subtlety of it, leaving this one flat and emotionless. Also, the first half of the film is very confusing; it felt like a lot of expositions needed to firmly root the relationships within this updated film were left out. I could not help but be lost at times when some ‘different-from-the- original’ moments happen every now and then. Also, it negatively affected the setup of some scenes further down the film. In addition, the first half of the film was oddly centered in showcasing the film’s special effects and uncomfortably darker than expected. There’s an entire subplot added to this film where Belle is attempting to find out how her mother died. It only comes up a few times and it’s not really even written into the story. We have the original story and, all of a sudden, Belle discovers that her mom and dad lived in a windmill in Paris. Like, why? Why is this even included in the story? It doesn’t add any depth to her or her father. It basically is just there to say that her dad loves her, which I think we can all reasonably infer already. There are various other added scenes and all of them feel roughly the same as this one. They all come from nowhere, add nothing, and then are completely forgotten about because they serve absolutely no purpose. This is where remakes become frustrating. On one hand, you want to see something new but if you go in a completely new direction people complain. And if you make a shot for shot remake, people complain. It is really hard to talk about the characters with this film because this whole thing is so close to the original in its script, music, and appearance that I find myself associating some character behaviors and motives with their original cartoon version. In the original film Gaston was one of my favorite Disney villains, and while he’s still fun here, he seems less villainous. The original Gaston was an egocentric dumb fellow. He never really made any villainous acts until partway through the film when he deliberately schemed to have Bell’s father locked away in an insane asylum unless she agrees to marry him. It’s a calculated move to get what he wants, and he has plenty of time to turn away but chooses not to. Here he just seems to react in the moment; when he’s told by Bell’s father that he can’t marry her, he punches the man out in anger and leaves him in the woods.
When he’s confronted about this by some angry townspeople, he decides to have him committed to cover up his act. When Bell shows up and reveals that there IS a Beast and her father is not crazy, Gaston then insists that she’s only saying this because the Beast placed a curse on her to say these things, and they have to all raid the castle to stop him from cursing them, too. Again, it’s all reactive. It wasn’t pre-meditated, which makes him less menacing and kind of wimpy, actually. Also Josh Gad‘s LeFou and devotion to the pompous Gaston goes, quite logically, from subtext to text, though in a way that hardly warrants the firestorm of controversy that has erupted in conservative circles over Disney‘s ‘gay agenda’. That said, other aspects of this remake yield more pleasant results. The Beast himself is far more expressive here. The CG is really good; he comes across the most different of the characters. He seems more human, and while it’s surprisingly easier for me to relate to him in this version, I worry that it might be at the expense of the story’s message. The original beast looked like a wild animal, covered completely in hair, almost always hunched over. Here he’s often standing straight, and because he doesn’t have much hair covering his face he seems more human. I liked the idea that you have to judge him based on his actions and words rather than his looks, so I feel he should looks less human. The set design is colorful and incredibly lavish, with equally gorgeous costumes (especially Belle’s yellow ball gown which is even nicer than the dress Watson wore in ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’) and everything is exquisitely photographed. Belle’s village is nearly an identical replica of the cartoon and Beast Castle’s looks absolutely stunning. Every last detail from the way Beast’s servants are animated to the transformation sequences looks fantastic. The original songs, some of Disney‘s finest ever, from the 1991 film are maintained, and as masterful as ever, while the instrumental score is rousing, layered and beautiful. Of the renditions of the songs, the best one is the Busby Berkeley-inspired jaw-dropping extravaganza “Be Our Guest”. “Gaston” is also enormous fun, and hurrah for one of the best song lyrics ever being kept “I use antlers in all my decorating” and while Emma Thompson‘s performance of the title is nothing compared to the iconic one of Angela Lansbury in one of the greatest scenes in all animation it is still poignant. Coming to the performances, I must say despite being a fan of the lead actors, I do agree with ones who say that they were a miscast. As much as I love Emma Watson, she never fits the role. Really all I could see was Hermione popping through constantly. I love her quirks, but they didn’t come off as Belle’s strange, feisty quirkiness. Really in the opening scene in the village, nothing about her came off as “strange” at all even though the townspeople are singing about how strange she is. Actually she seemed normal and they seemed strange. And yes, she can really sing well. Dan Stevens is left to bare his soul as a tortured fiend, which he does mostly well. But it’s when they are together that feels a bit underwhelming. The supporting cast does fare better than the leads, with Luke Evans being the standout, performing Gaston with gusto and menace. Josh Gad is great fun as LeFou, and regarding the controversy for me it has been blown out of proportion and nowhere near as explicit as seemingly implied, it’s actually pretty subtle and will go over the heads of younger audiences. Kevin Kline is great here and Ewan McGregor is clearly enjoying himself as Lumiere, despite sporting a dodgy accent (though a French accent is not easy), while Sir Ian McKellen is a wonderfully stuffy Cogsworth, Stanley Tucci is a great addition, so are Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Emma Thompson. Nathan Mack as Chip is very cute too, and the chemistry between McGregor‘s Lumiere and Mbatha-Raw‘s Plumette is sweet and amusing without being creepy. On the whole, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has some entertaining moments but is overall a watered down, dull retelling of a timeless classic.
Directed – Bill Condon
Rated – PG
Run Time – 129 minutes