This is now the third in a series of live action re-makes of classic Disney films. The previous two being 2015 Cinderella and 2016’s The Jungle Book which I reviewed for the website last year. I have been enjoying the live action Disney translations, some of them have added some really interesting ideas and even improved in some areas on the original films. I even stated that Jungle Book was probably one of the best films I saw last year, even though it didn’t make my Top 10. When I heard Beauty and the Beast was on the list, I was genuinely excited. The original film is one of my all time favourite Disney films, I think it’s fantastic. I even re-watched the original for the purpose of this review, and you know what, it really deserves its adoration. It’s a very well told adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. It has some brilliant central characters, a couple with genuinely good chemistry and a well told romance. There is a reason this was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at a time when there wasn’t even a Best Animated feature category. While I think the academy could do with adding more animated films for best picture, I personally think Beauty and the Beast should have won the Oscar even though it was narrowly pipped by a film that a like, that being Silence of the Lambs. The big question when wondering what this version was going to be like was ‘what changes will this film make’. Then I got slightly concerned by the choice of director. Now that’s not to say Bill Condon is a bad director per se, I would more describe him as a hit and miss director. Granted, he is a pretty good writer, having been a writer on the screenplay’s for Chicago and Dream Girls which he also directed. However you also have to take into account that he has also directed The Fifth Estate, which was a rather poor film saved by a brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch performance and let’s not forget the disastrous Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn movies, which, even fans of the franchise thought was a pretty poor way to end the series. How the direction and romance is done in the Twilight films, applying that to Beauty and the Beast would be disastrous. As I previously mentioned, I don’t think Bill Condon is a bad director, but you have got to look at the choice of directors for the previous Disney films. You had real interesting directors that were well known and had done some interesting films that suited their style. For example, Kenneth Brannagh is a very theatrical director and he brings that to Cinderella. John Favarro is very much a revolution in story telling for effects, as we saw in the Iron Man films. However, I did have some hope for it as the trailers looked pretty good and the casting sounded fantastic. Everyone seems very well cast. When all this is pushed to the side, how does this new version of Beauty and the Beast stand up to its contemporaries. Here are my thoughts on it.
I feel kind of silly giving a plot synopsis to a film as widely viewed as Beauty and the Beast, but to keep everyone on the same page I am going to do it for the five of you that haven’t seen Beauty and the Beast!
In a castle in France, a prince (played by Dan Stevens) rejects an ugly woman from entering his palace. After this, she curses him to have the appearance of a Beast until he can learn to love and be loved in return. Years go by and after escaping from a pack of wolves, Maurice, (played by Kevin Kline) seeks shelter in the castle. After an attempt to pick a rose for his daughter Belle (played by Emma Watson) the Beast locks him in the castle because of the theft. Belle travels to the castle in search of her father and after discovering him and the Beast, agrees to take his place in exchange for his freedom. Now the servants, who have been turned into objects as part of the curse, Lumierre, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts (played by Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson) work on a strategy to make Belle and the Beast fall in love in order to break the curse. So, with time ticking away, will they succeed.
Beauty and the Beast is a story that has been told time and time again. There are lots of facets to go down. The downside is, this film really doesn’t do much of anything different. Now I loved the first film and I was able to watch the it a couple of days before I even saw this film, so it was very fresh in my mind and it’s amazing how little is actually added to the film, or changed or is any way even remotely different. Now of course none of these elements are bad. They were all good the first time round, the problem is that they kind of lose the point of the film. What is the point of doing it again, but in live action. Ok, fine, it’s interesting to see these actors in these roles but they are not given much room to flex their acting muscles considering that the majority of them aren’t even in the room. Again, this was something that was done much further in the Jungle Book which also only had one human actor and several motion capture performances and believe me, we will be getting into my thoughts on the motion capture later on in this review. It frankly feels like this film has been made by a lot of people that really like the original movie but are so afraid of the fan base that they are not willing to change anything, and that’s just not worth it. The reason I liked Cinderella and the Jungle Book is because they took a new spin on something I had already seen and it made an interesting companion piece with the original film, as can easily be seen in the Nostalgia critic’s old versus new of Cinderella which took a very interesting look at both films and compared them to see which ones did each element better. It was rather interesting to see how each film did certain elements better than the others. This one was a pretty clear case, the original does a lot better than this new one in virtually every field. That’s not to say there are no changes and not additions to the story, there are. The problem is that none of them are that good or interesting. One of the changes includes a magic book which transports you anywhere you want to go, which feels like it something that the writers completely pulled out of their a… This does lead to a great moment in the film, one of the few additions I liked, but it also feels unnecessary. That’s this film in a nutshell in fact. A lot of it is unnecessary. Because it is so much like the original film, the minor changes stick out a lot more and make you wish you were watching the original film, where these elements were done better! Most of these changes consist of an extra song being added in, every once in a while, and believe me, we will be discussing the music in the presentation section! As well as some very dumb decisions around various character motivations and some unnecessary extra characters, which felt like they dragged the plot down rather than improved it. One of the changes I do like about the film, however, is the beginning of the film, where in the opening monologue, where it is revealed that the curse that is put on the castle also made everyone in the surrounding area forget about the castle’s existence. This kind of helped fill in the plot hole about how no one remembers about this prince and castle in a forest not too far from their own village and I admit I kind of liked it. I also liked the fact that the castle is in perpetual Winter, which is a nice subtle touch, although it come up with another problem I have with the film, which I will get in to later.
The biggest change by far is Gaston and LeFou who are played by Luke Evans and Josh Gad, granted, Gaston’s story arc is rather similar to his story arc in the original animated film, the downside is, well, he’s kind of a weaker villain. The original film has him more be the town’s hero who slipped more and more into monstrous behaviour as he fails to get his way more and more. The new version has this too, but it’s less of a gradual descent and more a complete fall, it feels like the pacing of this story arc was severely rushed, it’s nothing that breaks the film, but for my opinion, it does make this version of the villain weaker. As for LeFou, well he’s the one that’s the most unrecognisable from his animated counterpart. Now there has been a lot of controversy, although it’s entirely unnecessary, surrounding the fact that the character is gay in this version, which feels kind of weird, considering that’s a complaint, when this is a story about a woman falling in love with a literal man-animal!! Now, I’m not going to go into the acting session yet, but Josh Gad plays this part very well. I’m not actually a fan of him as an actor, but this is probably his best role since Frozen and it’s proof that he is much more suited to family films than R rated comedies and he really should be making his way out of that field. But to get back to the point in hand, while the character may not be beyond recognition, and given a more sympathetic edge, I feel his character is much more improved. He has gone from being the henchman stereotype to the jealous gay boyfriend stereotype, but I honestly think this version of the character is a lot more memorable than the original. Let’s face it, what do you remember about LeFou from the original, he follows around Gaston, he is basically a punch bag and forced comic relief and he starts the Gaston song, that’s all there is. Trust me, this is one of the changes to this version that I think is an improvement. The character can get quite annoying every so often and Josh Gad really plays it up a bit too much at times.
Let’s move on to the real meat on the bone. The romance. I don’t think the chemistry is that good this time round. It’s not that it’s not there, there’s actually some decent writing in that department and like the first film there is time devoted to show them bonding, getting to know each other and having time to fall in love. This is all stuff I like. Where does it fail? There are a few areas. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens might be decent choices to play these parts, but for some reason I didn’t feel their chemistry in this film as much as the animated version and I think it also suffers from the fact that the animated version didn’t specify how long it was between Belle’s imprisonment and the time she spends in the Castle with the Beast and used the changing seasons to the ‘Something There’ song demonstrated. This 2017 version doesn’t have that because the castle is in perpetual Winter and you get a sense that this version is taking place over a few days, maybe even weeks at most, not a sense of months like the animated film did, which is a shame. Granted the animated film didn’t state it was over months, but this romance feels a lot more rushed than the original animated film. The romance is not totally devoid, in fact Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are really trying to make this work, they really are. It just feels slightly off, it’s not bad, but just not as amazing as the first film.
My major problem of the film is the same thing, I can sum it up in two words “inferior re-make”. In fact, this film feels like an exact clone of the original, especially in the first 20-30 minutes. You could probably play the two films side by side, there would be very little difference between them. In fact, the only major one I can think of is that a few scenes are swapped around, shifted around from place to place and a couple of extra scenes added in, that’s about it. It almost feels at times like they are going for a shot for shot re-make, that’s kind of where the film feels at its worst because it feels unnecessary, since all these moments are done weaker than the original. Take the ‘Something There’ song as an example. In the original film, the song is done through their internal monologue. In this new version, we actively see them singing it, which doesn’t sound like much, but it kind of doesn’t help with the breaking of disbelief. Again, the musical numbers as a whole, feel way too over the top. You can get away with that in a cartoon because that allows for much more broader expressions and movement, when you try and do this in real life, it looks ridiculous! If it comes across that I am bashing this film, I am. But I don’t think this is a bad film at all, in fact I actually did say it’s an ok film and it’s simply because it’s still an almost shot for shot re-make of one of my favourite Disney films and if anything, it made me appreciate the animated film more, because every moment I was thinking ‘that moment was done better in the animated film’. However, that doesn’t make it a failure, if anything, I do like the film, it’s still those good moments done in live action. It’s just not what I was hoping for, I thought it was going to give a new edge to Beauty and the Beast, for it to give me something new, and it doesn’t really do that.
The actors are all fairly decent in this film. Everyone seems well cast and the one thing I will say about all the performances, even though a couple of them feel slightly miscast, they all seem like they are having fun. Emma Watson for example looks like she is having an absolute ball in this performance. This is clearly one of her childhood favourites that she now has the chance to be in and she is enjoying every single minute though her singing voice clearly needed a lot of auto tuning. Dan Stevens is an interesting choice to play the Beast and since he is having to do most of performance in motion capture, it makes for some rather interesting expression. He is obviously having his voice altered for the performances, but I was amazed how much he sounded like the original film and got down the mannerisms of the character. In fact, out of all the characters, he is probably the one who is closes to his animated counterpart, some later scenes notwithstanding. Now, anyone who read my reviews of Dracula Untold and The Girl on the Train knows that I am not a huge fan of Luke Evans, but when I heard he was playing Gaston, I was like “oh yes, that’s perfect casting” and I was completely right. He is really great for the role. I’ve already spoken about Josh Gad as LeFou, so I won’t dwell on that any further. Kevin Kline gives a decent performance, which is pretty good considering that the characters role has been expanded from between each version of the film. Ewan McGregor is a good choice for Lumiere, Emma Thompson is good a choice for Mrs Potts and Ian McKellen does a brilliant job as Cogsworth. The cast is also made up of other recognisable performances in the various household appliances such as Audrey McDonald, Stanley Tucci and many others. While this cast is really good, they are rather underdone by their writing, but the fact that they all seem to be having fun doing this film really rubs off and allows you to overlook a lot of the issues of the film and I thought their enthusiasm was infectious. I also would like to point out that I think Emma Watson has gotten way too much flack on Twitter in the build-up to the film’s release. Just throwing that one out there!!
As for the technical side of the film, that’s one other area where this film shines. This film’s production design is fantastic. The sets are brilliantly made, the CG computer effects are really good and the motion capture is also excellent. This is one good motion capture film and the CG characters blend into the environment relatively well. Maurice’s designs are pretty good. I’m not too big a fan of Lumiere’s re-design although I do admit it allows the character to be much more expressive, than he otherwise would have been. If there is one area where I think the film is not quite succeeding its really kind of weird with the Beast’s re-design. Don’t get me wrong, I think Dan Stevens does a pretty good job and the Beast’s design is rather decent, but dam, compared to the original, it doesn’t really hold a candle. No pun intended!! The Beast in the original looks like a Beast, this is how I envision the character looking. I know this was probably done so that they could capture Dan Stevens expressions for the motion capture but the Beast looks a bit too gentrified in this film and I get a sense that it might have been done more for fan service than anything else. As a result, it does make Emma Watson seem a little young to be playing the part, not that she doesn’t play Belle pretty well.
Now, I touched on the songs and that is where one of my biggest complaints really lies. All the songs from the original film are intact, not one of them has been cut. The problem is, that there has been a load added in as well and it feels like they have been made just to take up time. Now, I suspect many of these songs have been taken from the stage show or deleted songs that were intended for the original movie, in a similar way that Aladdin had a lot of songs that were cut from the final product. Now I’m not calling betrayal on this one since Alan Menken has returned to be the composer once again, however, the new songs are just not that great. They feel unnecessary and completely over the top, in fact the Beast gets a song later in the film which ruins the weight of the moment that it was meant to convey. The one thing I will say, however, is that the song ‘Human Again’ which was cut from the original film and placed back in on the special edition Blu Ray, is entirely absent from the film and replaced by a much better song and believe me, that was literally the worst part of the special edition!
So, where do I stand with Beauty and the Beast, because this is one of the more complicated films of the year for me. Well, on the one hand I like the fact that it’s a nice re-creation of the original film, which I enjoyed. The downside is that that is also its biggest weakness. It doesn’t really feel like a new film, it just feels like a repeat, which would be fine for a stage show, but not an entire movie. Especially considering that Jungle Book and Cinderella did a much better job updating their stories. I get a sense that Beauty and the Beast has not been around long enough to really warrant an update since the original one still holds up, there are not that many issues with it and it narratively is still as relevant now as it was upon its release in the 1990’s and it’s so evident here, every moment you are seeing something that is in the original film, you are getting a sense that it was done much better there and it really makes you feel that the minor changes and additions feel like they detract from the film more than they add. Again, it’s not to say it’s bad. The actors do a decent job, the effects are pretty good and the set design is fantastic, I expect to be seeing this film nominated in several of the technical categories at next year’s Oscars. However, to me, it just feels rather ‘been there, done that, and it was much better the first time’. I don’t hate this movie, in fact, I kind of like it on a few levels and I wouldn’t object to seeing it again as I suspect this is probably going to become a mainstay of British TV at Christmas. However, I can’t fully recommend Beauty and the Best, especially if you enjoyed the first film. It’s worth it for curiosity and you will get a good film for the price value, but you are not getting a great film. There’s no two cents on the subject.
So that’s my reviews for the week. If you have any thoughts on any of the films I have reviewed, leave something in the comments section, we are very interested to hear your thoughts.
Now time for one of my most anticipated films of the year, or I am clutching at straws that at the time this movie has been published and you are reading it, I am sat in a cinema enjoying it. Time for me to go back to one of my childhood classics which I have kept to this day and review the latest incarnation of Power Rangers. Join me next week for that one.
Thanks a lot for reading my review, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it, and get ready, IT’S MORPHIN TIME.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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