For this big fan of the original, Disney’s heavily marketed, live-action version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ remake fell short
It wouldn’t be right of me to start this review without a small disclaimer, so here it is.
I am a bit of a fan of Disney’s animated 1991 Beauty and the Beast film.
Ok, not a bit of a fan, a massive fan. I’ve watched it dozens of times. I can pretty much recite the opening prologue (which was voiced by Stephen Fry) verbatim. I know every word of the opening musical number ‘Belle’ off by heart and have listened to the film’s instrumental soundtrack for probably thousands of hours.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, you might have a clear idea of where I’m coming from for the rest of this review of the live-action remake, which waltzes into our cinemas this Friday.
Tale as old as time?
First let’s look at the story. The live-action remake presents the story we know and love from the animated film (a small-town bookworm rescues her father from imprisonment by a beast in an enchanted castle, trading her freedom for his), with a few small changes. One of those changes is that the film is approximately two hours ten minutes long, which is about 20 minutes longer than the 1991 animated version.
The extra time allows for a little more breathing room between some of the scenes, but it feels unnecessarily long, with truncated story-beats from the animated film being overly drawn out. For instance the opening musical number takes long pauses for much expository dialogue and action, ultimately dampening its intensity.
However, the extra running time does allow for the main characters to get fleshed out with backstories: the absence of Belle’s mother and the longing to know more about her becomes a central part of the film’s narrative; Gaston is revealed to be an ex-soldier whose narcissism is played to new heights; Belle’s father is less of an eccentric inventor and more an earnest visionary; and the absence of the Beast’s parents is used to explain his cruel demeanour.
That Gay Moment
While the story remains predominantly the same, there are some subtle differences, including an understated overhyped ‘gay’ moment with LeFou – who wants to be Gaston while at the same time wanting to be with him. The gay moment, which was made much of in the media, doesn’t really live up to the hype. LeFou camps it up at times, and at other times imitates Gaston’s hyper-masculinity, but instead of coming out he declares himself a confirmed bachelor because women find him “clingy”.
At the end, we get a brief glimpse of LeFou dancing with another man. So much for gay moments.
There are comparisons to be gleaned between Gaston and America’s current president. When he’s rallying the townspeople against Belle’s father, Maurice, we see the true danger of a charismatic, populist leader who can twist the truth and rile up a mob using a demonised entity, in this case the Beast.
Music & Score
The live action remake of Beauty and the Beast is faithful to the original in terms of singing and dancing, indeed it’s almost too faithful. The first trailer for the remake movie took the original music and embellished it to become even more mystical and magical than it was before. Unfortunately this doesn’t translate to the feature, for all the use of CGI and development of characters, there’s little development of Menken and Ashman’s score and songs. It could have translated into the musical masterpiece the trailers hinted at, but it falls short and feels tired.
When it comes to casting, I wish that the film’s Director, Bill Condon, had searched high and low for new talent who could do justice to the original.
Instead, it seems like some producers behind closed doors decided to line up a host of big name, A-list actors to fill the roles, regardless of whether they would do the parts justice.
Emma Watson is the prime example of this. Instantly recognisable from the Harry Potter franchise along with being known across the world as a feminist advocate for gender equality, Watson looks the part, her refined beauty unquestionable. However, her vocals fall short, seeming meek and (I hate to say it) autotuned. Additionally, while I’m generally a big fan of her, Watson’s acting, and some of the emotional scenes in the film fell short for me.
When Disney should have cast someone based on the merit of their acting and vocal performance, they opted instead for big name celebrities: Emma Thompson; Ewan McGregor; Stanley Tucci.
Pretty much the only casting that worked for me in this film was Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, the enchanted clock, Luke Evans as Gaston, the wickedly handsome villain, and Josh Gad as LeFou, his fawning sidekick.
There’s no getting away from computer generated imagery (CGI) in this film, given that a clock and a candlestick have large parts to play. But elsewhere it’s overdone. As we are introduced to Gaston and LeFou, they sit atop horses looking at their village from afar, and the village is rendered by computers. This is repeated throughout the film, when Belle looks across Parisian rooftops, when she and the Beast enjoy a sunset, and in shots of the castle
But for all the overblown scenery, the humanised characters in the beast’s castle, Lumière, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts, Chips et al have been butchered by computer science. Their original charm and character is flattened, particularly in terms of their facial expressions, which lose the larger than life quality of cartoons.
It’s all stripped down in favour of a more ‘realistic’ aesthetic. Lumière, once a simple, romantic bright yellow candelabra, is now a charmless statue come to life.
Cogsworth’s face is almost indistinguishable from the actual parts of the clock, and Mrs Potts… don’t even get me started on Mrs Potts.
The wardrobe was also a much more endearing character in the 1991 version of the film. In the remake her shrill operatic voice and adherence to the ‘realistic’ aesthetic have disrobed her of charm.
Disney have taken what is probably the best part of the original movie, the enchanted objects, and stripped them of their anthropomorphic qualities leaving them much closer to being inanimate objects than they were before, and harder to connect to. Not cool Disney, not cool.
If you’re a big fan of the original like myself, you might be disappointed with the CGI’s realistic aesthetic and the dehumanising of such integral enchanted objects. But if you’re coming at the film with a fresh set of eyes then maybe, just maybe, you’ll enjoy it for what it is: a pretty faithful remake of a gorgeous story with incredible music that is bound to capture the hearts of an entirely new generation of children. It just hasn’t re-captured mine.