Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci
We’re now fully in the age of live-action remakes, reboots, reimaginings or whatever you would like to call them, and the unstoppable juggernaut of Disney is rolling full steam ahead with its current slate, including the likes of ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King’. Many will ask the question of why, and you can argue until you’re blue in the face about this one, but the answer is simple; money. We might hate to admit it, but these movies make money. People will turn out in their droves for Disney, and quite rightly so. They haven’t got to where they are today without producing some of the finest films ever made, and in their new phase of live-action adaptations comes their latest offering, ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Going into this film, the general feeling was cautious optimism; on the one hand there was the promise of a gorgeous musical score from the master, Alan Menken, but there was also a Beast who looked like it had been digitally rendered by a five year old. The result is almost exactly what those who were cautiously optimistic expected – the good bits are really good, and the bad bits…well they’re a little worse than I had feared.
Starting with the good, the aforementioned Alan Menken score, which won him an Oscar for the original animated movie in 1991, is present, correct and as wonderful as you’d hope. Those first few familiar bars of the prologue will allow you to sink into your seat and relax, knowing that at least one of the magical elements of the animated classic is in tact. Try not to be lulled into too much of a false sense of security though, but we will come to that later. There are a handful of really strong, stand-out scenes scattered throughout, mostly in the biggest song and dance numbers, with “Be Our Guest” once again being the pièce de résistance, and the rousing “Gaston” perhaps having more pep in its step than before. The famous ballroom sequence, too, is still gorgeous, although the grandiose sweeping camera movements of the animated version are somewhat absent.
Character wise it is very much a mixed bag, but staying on a positive note for now, the highlights were Luke Evans’ comically grotesque Gaston and Josh Gad’s infatuated LaFou. They’re complete scene-stealers, and Evans in particular has an absolute ball hamming it up to the max, playing Gaston in the pantomime villain style that is necessary for this character. For all the unnecessary controversy over the more overt love LaFou has for Gaston (let’s face it, we all knew the animated one had the hots for him anyway), this new take on the characters does wonders for both of them and transforms LeFou from being a simpering sycophant to a character who has genuine depth.
Desperately wanting her to be good as Belle, Emma Watson’s performance was ultimately very disappointing, and whilst there is no denying she looks the part, and somewhat epitomises the feistier side of Belle, her delivery is flat and uninspiring. Much has been said about her singing, and whilst not completely awful, watching her lipsync isn’t even remotely convincing. Sure, it is pre-recorded and run through an auto-tune, but it never looks as if she ever sung those words. They feel detached and isolated, and considering the music is such a big part of the original, this is hugely disappointing.
The biggest fear based on the trailers was the use of CGI, particularly with the rendering of the Beast, and I’m afraid to report that this CGI work is indeed everything we feared. It really does look awful, and whilst Dan Stevens actually delivers a solid voice performance, the character is entirely lost in a poorly-executed character. Once again it feels detached, so obviously put together digitally, that it’s hard to ever truly believe the chemistry between him and Emma Watson’s Belle. It could so easily have been done with practical effects, which makes this whole thing even more frustrating to watch.
On the whole then, whilst there are undoubtedly good elements, this latest version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is thoroughly disappointing. There’s drastic pacing problems throughout, with the original 84 minute runtime being fleshed out to a flabby 129 minutes. These extra 45 minutes are littered with some original songs and extended sequences, but it is difficult to see what exactly it is they add to the story overall. It retains so much of the animated version that it weighs the film down, resulting in the flow of the story feeling unnatural, laboured, and dare it be said, dull. Throughout the film you might be wondering what exactly is the point? The animated movie is perfect, it is a classic, and watching this version adds absolutely nothing to your life. You could gain 45 minutes of doing something else and watch a film which is completely wonderful from beginning to end by sticking with the original. There will never come a time, for me at least, when there is the urge to watch this 2017 version again.
‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a reimagining completely devoid of imagination or originality. Remaking Disney films is a catch 22 situation; on the one hand, a complete deviation from the story would upset fans, but on the other hand, sticking so rigidly to the original will lead many to question why the remake is needed in the first place? Of course, no one can stop the Disney remake train now it has charted its course, but this doesn’t bode too well for their future offerings.