Beauty and the Beast and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios
Directed by Bill Condon
So Maleficent was good, as were the two Alice in Wonderland movies (WHAT!? THEY ARE!!), but what exactly is Disney’s end goal in trying to burn through their entire catalog in search of reigniting nostalgic fans to spend money on these stories once again? Sure, Mulan seems like a good idea, but they’ve got plans for live action adaptations of The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and even a Dumbo movie that’s been in development for almost three years now! Before all that though, we’ve got this remake of the classic 1991 film which seems to be the most… shall we say FAITHFUL, of the bunch so far as the trailers seem to imply that it’s basically shot for shot. Then again, they did bring Bill Condon on hand to direct who’s work includes Dream Girls and Chicago, as well as the ONE decent Twilight movie (*cough* Breaking Dawn Part 2 *cough*), so maybe there’s a bit more inspiration and creative flourish on hand than what we’ve been lead to believe from the marketing. Is this the yet another success for the Mouse House and the new direction they’re taking with their non-Marvel and Non-Star Wars films, or is this just a lazy cash grab for a studio that can do much better? Let’s find out!!
The movie is… well it’s Beauty and the Beast. Do you NEED me to tell you what it’s about? Ugh… fine. There once was a prince (Dan Stevens) who was total jerk. He rejected a beggar woman at his door which seems to be standard protocol in the Aristocracy, but this beggar was the one in ten thousand that you do not mess with as she turns out to be an Enchantress who puts a curse on the prince, his castle, and all of his servants. The prince, who is now a furry, has to find true love before time runs out which is determined by a magic rose slowly dying in his room or else the curse will be permanent and he will have to live as his fursona for all time! Now I wouldn’t think that would be TOO bad of an outcome (buff as all hell, no summer heat because the castle is in a perpetual winter, you don’t have to pay your servants anymore), but I guess it’ll do for a redemption arc. More important than that though is the story of Belle (Emma Watson) herself who is a bright young woman from the local village that can’t wait to live a life of excitement, adventure, and proper bathing habits; none of which she can find as long as she stays there. The village thinks she’s strange because she can read and stuff which makes her a bit of an outcast, but that doesn’t avert the local hottie Gaston (Luke Evans) from pursuing her with all his M’lady charms; backed up of course by his friend LeFou (Josh Gad) who’s just happy to be spending time with the big lug the same way Smithers finds working with Mr. Burns to be so rewarding! When disaster strikes and Belle’s father (Kevin Kline) is locked up by The Beast for trespassing on his land, Belle agrees to take his place and stay in the castle… FOREVER!! Admittedly not the BEST way to start a relationship, but maybe he can learn to stop acting like an uncouth animal from her example and maybe she can finally experience some of that adventure and wonder that has eluded her for so long. I mean… she’s STILL a prisoner, but it is at least a really nice prison! Will The Beast learn his lesson about giving poor people food (or was it finding love?) before it’s too late? What will Belle do now that she’s trapped in a magical castle with talking furniture, and will she find a way to escape her captor? Does anyone else think Ron Perlman should have been cast in this? Thirty years later, and he can STILL pull it off!
This movie is the textbook example of an unnecessary remake, and yet it’s still a damn good movie all the same. Sure it has its problems that are separate from how it compares to the original film, and it’s certainly a cynical and ambitionless endeavor, but it manages to passably hit all the notes that it very much needs to and it does have its own unique charm that makes it worth watching at least once. It’s not going to replace the original film for those who grew up on it (this one is NOT as good as that one just to be clear) but if you missed the chance to see the re-release from a few years ago, then sure. This one will do just fine. It doesn’t really have a creative bone in its body as it’s basically the licensed and well-funded equivalent of a GoodTimes Entertainment knock off, but it plays the part well enough. After all, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Then again, Disney is imitating themselves which seems appropriately narcissistic for this particular mega corporation.
When talking about where this movie succeeds and fails, we basically have to look at it in two ways; how does compare to what was done in the 1991 film whenever it’s trying to imitate that, and what does it add to set itself apart from simply being a shot for shot remake? We’ll start with the first one which… eh, it’s fine. It certainly doesn’t have the impact of that original film, but it manages to have the right town which is more than I was expecting from the trailers. Right away, it’s clear that they aren’t going to try and make this a YA style adaptation where all the characters are brooding and they try to sex everything up in the most chaste way possible which CERTAINLY could have been the case considering the director’s previous work on the Twilight films. Instead, it’s very much a big budgeted Broadway production with garish colors and over the top performances that do their best to emulate the original film’s particular style. It works for the most part, and is certainly better than the impression I got from the trailers, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. For one, and this might be due to the theater I was in, the vocals in the musical numbers sounded weak overall. Emma Watson, Luke Evans, even Josh Gad who’s an experienced Broadway performer, can’t seem to push their voices past the bombastic music whenever they have a chance to sing, and it’s really distracting when some of their lyrics get drowned out in all the pageantry.
The acting is just fine for the roles which are pretty much all cast by fantastic actors, and while I’m not familiar with Dan Stevens who played The Beast, he held his own against the more recognizable cast around him. Visuals as well are rather solid across the board, though there’s definitely a sense of MORE IS MORE when it comes to how the scenes are staged and what kind of special effects are used. It works fine for some of the musical numbers which are much grander and more heavily populated than in the original film (particularly the opening number), but in other places it’s incredibly distracting. For one, I wasn’t a fan of most of the servants’ designs in here; especially Lumière and Cogsworth (Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen) who are made up of so many intricate and moving parts that it almost ends up feeling like a Transformers movie where all the visual sound and fury ultimately amounts to nothing. That said I did like Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) whose design was very creatively realized as well as Plumette (Gugu Mbatha) whose design was a HUGE departure from the original film and was relatively simple when compared to everyone else. The worst example of the movie’s problem with over stuffing the visual elements comes with the Be Our Guest number which is… just visual white noise. There is SO much happening on screen constantly that none of it means anything and it all because shiny and colorful soup; losing whatever heart was in the original number to begin with. Hell, even Belle doesn’t seem too impressed by it all as we cut back to her every once in a while, and she’s staring back; politely smiling and looking somewhat confused as if she had no idea what the hell she was looking at. Sure, the original musical number was similarly over the top, but it worked well with the similar 2D animated style as opposed to the aesthetics they chose for this one.
Now there is one more major aspect of the visuals that I haven’t touched upon yet and it will nicely dovetail us into what they’ve added to this movie to separate it from the original. The Beast looks fine for the first half, but there’s a sort of uncanniness to him that makes it a bit off putting. I’ll put it on the fact that his face is given more human characteristics, but it’s also depending on what this CG character is supposed to do in a given scene. Early on, when he’s trying to be SUPER scary, it comes off as laughable and is hard to take seriously with his doofy little fangs, full human lips, and bright blue eyes. As the movie goes along and he starts to mellow out though, he’s given the chance to be more expressive which works VERY well for the design. The script makes a conscious effort to humanize him and several other characters much more than they were in the original movie, and for him it works incredibly well. He’s sarcastic, he throws out a few jokes, and the relationship even starts to make a bit more sense as the two of them begin to connect on a much more intellectual level than what we saw previously. The effect is less impressive whenever The Beast has to live up to his namesake, but it does work for the most part. Since we’re on the subject, the one area where the film finds success in adding new material to this story is the previously mentioned humanization. Now that’s not to say that the original film didn’t have deep and compelling characters, but they always felt like archetypes in a grand story rather than people interacting. Belle in the original movie was headstrong and full of dreams which is just as true here, but they spend a bit more time and show a bit more of that rebellious nature to her in this which Emma Watson pulls off with aplomb. Similarly, her Dad gets MUCH more to do here in the original which goes a long way to fleshing out the relationship the two of them have and why she makes certain decisions throughout the story. Now the most obvious example of this that everyone is probably gonna be talking about is Josh Gad as LeFou who goes from a rather one dimensional sidekick to Gaston in the original film to someone who’s motivations are explored in greater detail and who actually has an arc in the story. Now that’s not to take away from how he was portrayed in the first film (played by legendary voice actor Jesse Corti), but it is something that will set this one apart from its predecessor. He’s sharp witted despite his devotion to Gaston, he actually serves as a companion to him instead of a sycophant, and he’s eternally optimistic (misguided as it may be) that Gaston can truly live up to his potential; not to mention that all of this bleeds into his interactions with Gaston who in turn becomes a more compelling character for it. And yes, the character is in fact gay which I’m sure some very lovely people out there are going to have a dumb and embarrassing hissy fit about, but I invite those people to stay at home if they feel so strongly about it and free up some seats in the theater for those whose enjoyment won’t be shattered by someone else having a different yet equally valid idea of love. More importantly, I never got the sense that him being gay was there just for a joke about how much he loves Gaston and that it was just a natural extension of his character. You’re mileage will vary of course, but I didn’t have any problem with how it was represented in this.
Sadly, that’s about it in regards to what changes actually end up working in this movie. Everything else feels like needless filler, whether it’s the new songs which are fine but unnecessary, or the backstories for both Bell and The Beast which felt like solutions to problems that didn’t actually exist in the original movie. Hell, they even throw in a magic book at one point which feels less like an organic addition to the story and more like a rejected subplot that was turned into one of those Straight to Video specials. They just keep adding more and more subplots that don’t really go anywhere, such as Belle’s Father’s friendship (relationship?) to a local beggar woman, and all they do is just bloat the run time by a good half hour. There’s no reason for this movie to be as long as it is, especially when it hews so closely to the original movie. If they wanted to add something new to the movie, they needed to improve areas or REPLACE some of the original ideas with new ones; not try to sneak it into a movie that’s already complete without such additions.
I’m sure this is going to have its fans and there’s not a whole lot I can do to argue with them as this is a well-made movie with a solid cast and a decent if somewhat bloated script. It’s just… so unnecessary for this movie to exist when the original film that this is EXPLICITLY based on is still around and really hasn’t aged all that much. Most of what they add here is just superfluous and gaudy which undercuts the few GOOD additions that they actually managed to bring to the table. It MIGHT be worth the money to see this in the theater for the pageantry of it all, but you might have just as much fun buying the original film on Blu Ray if you haven’t already.