Earlier last month (can’t believe it’s April already), Disney hit us with yet another live-action remake of one of their famous animated films. This time, however, Disney chose to remake a film from the Disney Renaissance Era (1989-1999, in case you’re not familiar) rather than one of their more classical animated films. Personally, I felt that this was a little too ambitious on their part. Their classic animated films are far enough removed from our culture for their remakes to receive warm welcomes. The Renaissance Era movies, however, are still relatively fresh within the minds of the masses. Even I, as someone who openly expresses their distaste for Disney, am able to admit that I was born during the Disney Renaissance, and that because of this a lot of my childhood movie-viewing experiences revolved around me demanding that my parents rewind the VHS tape so that I could watch The Lion King again. The point is that my generation grew up with these films, and it would be very hard for writers to come up with something that both satisfies our nostalgia while simultaneously giving us something fresh (at least, that’s what I would have hoped Disney was going for).
So, when I heard that Bill Condon was directing this film, I pretty much just passed this off as another of Disney’s attempts to engrain themselves deeper into your wallets and brains. Condon is famous for directing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 AND 2 (which have a 24% and 49% on Rotten Tomatoes) and Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (which has a 25%). Still, even with Condon at the helm, the film has managed to garner a 71% on RT and has claimed its spot as the 6th most domestically profitable opening weekend in film history. Does Condon really deserve the praise? And does Disney really deserve or need all that cash? (Spoiler alert: they don’t)
If you want a really short story section rather than my typically lengthy ones, then all you need to do is read this sentence: despite the addition of 45 minutes to the animated film’s runtime, the live-action remake does not add anything substantial or significant to the story.
Now, as for you loyal readers that actually want to hear what I have to say, follow me as I go in-depth and tell you why Disney is just trying to take more of your money.
The biggest addition to this story is the expanded backstories of Belle and Beast (who, by the way, still doesn’t have a name other than “Beast,” despite his obvious hatred of the title in this film). I’ve seen a lot of people commenting about how they were glad that these backstories were explored; that it added depth to their characters. My response is this: if you require expanded backstory to build a character, then you don’t know how to do it in the first place. We don’t need to know about Belle’s mother, and the Beast’s origins are actually still quite vague. The only thing that I thought was a nice change was that the Beast himself was cursed by the enchantress as an adult because of his heartlessness. Does this ultimately change his character that much from the original film though? No, not at all.
On the flip side, the addition of the backstories and character development of the servants actually added a lot more emotional attachment to them than you might have had in the original film. There is a great scene near the end that shows the servants trying to say their goodbyes to one another before they fully transform into the object that they embody. This was by far the best and most emotional part of the film for me.
The reason I was so attached to the servants rather than the main characters probably has a lot to do with the next section…
I’m totally willing to take the heat for what I’m about to say; I don’t think Emma Watson is a great actress. She’s certainly proven to be a wonderful person and an extremely beautiful woman, but I can’t honestly say that I want to see her leading in more films in the future. Much like Condon’s previous work with his leading lady in Twilight, Watson just looked bored for a lot of the movie. The one part where I got behind her work was when she sees the library for the first time. Watson was quite literally raised alongside Hermione Granger, so she is definitely used to playing the smart girl, but there wasn’t enough smart-Belle present in the movie for Watson to really make an impact. So, you could point to the writers for not writing the character specifically for her, or you could point to her for not having the range to account for the non smart-Belle scenes.
Dan Stevens is okay as the Beast, but the character turns very suddenly from the high-tempered hothead in the first thirty minutes of the film to a shy and reserved introvert for the rest of the movie. There is literally a flashback scene that seems to forever change Beast’s character; like it gives him PTSD or something.
Surprisingly, despite his lack of body mass, Luke Evans and Josh Gad are probably the only standouts of this film as Gaston and LeFou respectively. Even so, I think it was odd to see Evans fight Stevens at the end because… well, I had a hard time believing that he would actually be able to put up a fight against a half-lion half-bear half-man thing.
Have no fear, Disney fans. Unlike Disney’s last live-action remake, this film adaptation stays true to its musical roots. All the songs that you grew up listening to and probably feel a deep sense of nostalgia for are present in this film. This adaptation was scored by Alan Menken, who did the original 1991 version as well as most of the other Disney Renaissance movies. There are a few additions to this film as well, most notably an emotional solo done by Beast towards the end of the film.
Believe it or not, I actually really like the music from the original movie. But, I knew something was off not a minute into the first musical number. Emma Watson’s auto-tune is definitely noticeable throughout the entire movie, which seems very… odd? I understand that she is an actress that can potentially draw a crowd, but it seems like a mistake to cast the leading role of a musical to someone that isn’t a great singer. While Dan Stevens’ voice is similarly doctored, it is less noticeable than Watson’s.
Everyone else is pretty good. The biggest stand-out to me was Ewan McGregor as Lumière. I didn’t figure out that Obi-Wan was playing a Frenchie until the casting credits started rolling. He did an excellent job.
A lot of the production design and costume design looks terrific in this film. There are a lot of CG backdrops and sets that look noticeably fake, but the other sets are so detailed that they make up for it.
Condon’s direction is decent, but he does not know how to film or edit scenes that feature a lot of movement. For instance, there are two ensemble song and dance numbers in the first ten minutes of the movie. In both of these sequences, a ton of cuts and camera movements prevent the audience from really taking in the scope of the scene and enjoying the choreography. I think Condon thought that longer shots would help, but they don’t help if you’re tracking so fast that dancers just whiz by the camera and out of frame. This problem also showed up again in the three “fight” scenes that occur in the film (if you can call them that).
The biggest sin here, in my opinion, was how poorly the voice-overs were used. There are a multitude of scenes where a character is obviously not talking, yet you can hear their voice. The way the characters match up with the voices reminded me a lot of an old show that I used to enjoy called Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (MXC). Is that a bit harsh? Probably, but you’ll definitely notice it now that I’ve pointed it out to you.
X-Factor: 4/10, Message
The relationship between Belle and the Beast is, yet again, formed on a very flimsy foundation. Belle is impressed with his collection of books… so she starts to like him despite how awful he’s been to her up until then. The moral of the story is that as long as you’re educated, super-rich, and able to NOT get arrested for keeping a woman prisoner in your castle against her will for a week or two, then you’ll always be able to find the woman of your dreams. Seriously though, Belle’s distaste for literally everyone in her village hadn’t really ever bothered me until I saw this movie. You’re telling me that there’s absolutely NO educated people in your town? That really seems to be the only difference between the characters we’re shown and the Beast.
Also, if the Beast is such an asshole before the enchantress changes him into the Beast, why doesn’t Gaston get a similar chance? Belle has a line somewhere near the beginning where she tells Gaston that “people can’t change that much.” Evidently, this does not apply to the Beast because he’s our main character. Otherwise, Gaston should also be cursed by the enchantress so that he learns his listen too, no?
Beauty and the Beast is one you can most likely skip if you don’t have a great sense of urgency to go see it for yourself. However, for those of you that have a huge sense of nostalgia for the original film and absolutely have to go and see this movie, don’t set your standards too high or you will be disappointed. Ultimately, like I said near the beginning of the review, this movie is nearly identical to the animated original. I would say the animated feature is superior because it leaves less room for error by taking out physical actors and cameras and allowing the film to focus on what it wants to have at its center, which is the music.