IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 129 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A vain and selfish Prince is turned into a beast by an enchantress disguised as a beggar to whom he refuses shelter. To break the spell, he must learn to love another and earn her love in return before the last petal of a rose falls. If he fails, he will remain a beast forever. Years later, in the village of Villeneuve, a young woman named Belle lives with her father Maurice, an inventor and tinkerer. Gaston, a celebrated but narcissistic former soldier, seeks for her hand in marriage, but she’s repulsed by him. On a trip to market, Maurice is attacked by wolves and seeks refuge in the Beast’s castle, only to be imprisoned by the beast as penance for taking a rose from the garden. Belle offers to take her father’s place….
In terms of Disney Princess movies, I actually rate Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Snow White And The Seven Dwarves higher than Beauty And The Beast. But there’s no doubt that Disney’s 1991 picture is still quite wonderful and is definitely one of their most widely loved films, even considered by many to be their greatest animated movie ever. For quite a few years now, I’ve been trying to work out in my mind whether the Disney honchos share this widespread adoration for the movie, or whether they are just using it as an easy cash cow which they know will constantly make money for them. I mean we’ve had the Special Edition with the extra song that had been conveniently cut from the original release, the IMAX release, the 3D release….and now the live action [though actually the term live action is probably pushing it as about half of it is CGI] remake, which has led me to finally conclude that Disney doesn’t really think of much of the film after all. And it’s also finally led me to conclude that I truly hate Disney. My adoration of many of their classics – films I loved when I was 6, films I still love now, and films I will still love when I’m 86 if I make it that far – remains intact. I almost cannot put into words my admiration for the people who spent untold hours creating these timeless masterpieces – people whom Disney is insulting with their programme of live action/CGI-dominated remakes, proving that they don’t really care much about their legacy any more either. Of course remakes happen all the time and I’ll admit that Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon and [up to a point] The Jungle Book turned out well. But there’s something especially cynical about what Disney are doing right now, even if this kind of thing isn’t entirely new for the company – remember all those shoddy sequels they made during the 90’s?
Beauty And The Beast takes things to such an extreme that this Disney fan [or should I say Disney movie fan – I’m no fan whatsoever of the studio and its greed, and don’t even get me started on ‘Uncle Walt’ himself] actually seethed with anger during some moments. That sounds like an extreme reaction to a movie, and I guess it probably is. All they’ve really done with this remake is transplanted the animated version virtually wholesale onto a live action/CGI format. Cinderella and The Jungle Book were too close to their cartoon predecessors for my liking, but at least they tried a few different things. But this Beauty And The Beast is little more than a carbon copy of the original, and I’m not just talking about the screenplay. I’m talking the look, the design and even exact replicating of shots. Yes, most scenes are extended, there are a few new ones which seem to be just put there to extend the running time, and there are notable differences [none of them an improvement] in the music, but in general this could very be the laziest and most pointless remakes since Gus Van Sant’s pitiful Psycho.
Instead of a few shots of stained glass windows, we actually see the events of the Prince being cursed play out properly, but it adds nothing, and ruins the surprise of seeing the Prince at the end of the film when he transforms back. Two things I did like here were the fact that the Prince’s household staff are not just transformed into talking knick-knacks but that they will essentially die as old rubbish if the curse isn’t lifted in time, and that the most glaring plot hole from the original film’s script – why don’t the villagers recall the fact that a prince once lived nearby? – is addressed. Fast forward several years and we’re in the village of Villeneuve which is an almost exact replica of the one in the cartoon. Belle appears to sing Belle, and the choreography is okay. Emma Watson can sing reasonably well though she doesn’t come anywhere near Paige O’ Hara who sung her part in 1991, and many of the high notes are missing – presumably because Watson couldn’t sing them – meaning that the song now lacks dynamic range. It soon struck me in this film that Watson just isn’t a very good actress. She rarely performs with conviction, and coupled with the fact that the motion capture Beast just looks awful for most of the time means that much of the required emotion of their love story doesn’t come off. The Beast, possibly based on Pan’s Labyrinth’s Faun, makes that shoddy Peter Cushing replica in Rogue One look not too bad. We’re certainly not talking the last two Planet Of The Apes films here – in fact we’re not even talking Gollum. Often his face actually looks out of focus!
Anyway, Belle becomes the Beast’s prisoner and they have to fall in love. We get some more additions with some delving into the backgrounds of both Belle and the Beast, but it just slows down what was hardly a fast paced storyline in the first place and certainly didn’t involve me any more in their love story – and despite writing for a website called Horror Cult Films I can be a sentimental old romantic sometimes. The pairing of a poorly acted heroine with a blurry-faced, dead-eyed thing that barely even looks alive just doesn’t work, while scenes from 1991 – the dance, the attack on the castle etc. – are just replicated without any sense of genuine enthusiasm – they’re just being replicated because they exist and people liked them. There’s still lots of comic relief from the Beast’s enchanted clock, harpsichord etc, though many of these characters just look creepy here and lack the life of their animated counterparts. At least they’re fun to spend time with and there’s a genuine sense of tragedy when they seem to be approaching their final hours. However, the element that almost threatens to save the film and bring it to genuine life is Luke Evan’s superb Gaston, a terrific exercise in male vanity and conceit. Even Josh Gad is good in this movie [now that’s something I’d never thought I’d say], which brings me to the “controversial” gay element. Yes, Gad plays a gay character and he has a few “gay” moments, but they’ll go over the heads of most kids and probably won’t even be noticed by some adults either. Frankly it’s a load of fuss about nothing and it’s not as if he’s even the first gay Disney character anyway [think about it]. Personally I would have thought that more people would find the idea of a candelabra quite clearly having a relationship with a feather duster to be more unsuitable for the eyes of kids.
The new versions of the original songs are okay but inferior to their previous renderings. Aurally Be Our Guest probably comes off best though what is a surreal highlight of the cartoon and a show stopping closure to the first act of the stage production ends up becoming little more than a chaotic exercise in seeing how much CGI they can throw at the screen regardless of how unconvincing it might look. Gaston has some additional lyrics but bizarrely loses probably its funniest line. Beauty And The Beast probably comes off worst because Emma Thompson can’t manage any of the lovely feel that Angela Lansbury brought to it. At least Audra McDonald’s aural battle with the orchestra [in a film which showcases poor sound mixing throughout] in the final scene manages to be more exciting than Gaston’s rooftop battle with the Beast where the shoddy CGI really takes over. There are a few new songs which add little and which are inferior to the ones which were added to the stage show. Why give the Beast a mediocre spotlight song called Evermore when he had a really touching number called If I Can’t Love Her on stage? It’s one of several odd decisions. Meanwhile Alan Menken delivers a watered down reboot of his tremendous earlier score, presenting the classic themes poorly and lacking memorable new ones, thematic drive, or fluid coherency just like so many movie scores these days. Mind you, it’s understandable that he wasn’t much inspired.
The pedestrian feeling that dominates this film is epitomised by when the Beast shows Belle into his vast library. It’s quite an awe-inspiring moment in the cartoon, and an important moment in the story because it’s probably the first time Belle realises that the Beast may not be all that he seems, and that life in the castle may not be too bad after all, but here all we get are a few dimly lit shots of books and a pan up to some higher shelves which is then suddenly cut short. Of course one shouldn’t expect much more from the director of two Twilight films, but what’s the point of having all these ornate castle interiors and then photographing them in a manner so that we can’t appreciate or even properly see them? Still, despite its many, many flaws, it is entirely possible that this version of Beauty And The Beast isn’t actually too bad if taken on its own, hence why my star rating isn’t quite as low as the review may suggest. However, if judged alongside the animated film it’s just inferior in nearly every way, and because it’s so similar it just comes across as a picture that has no reason whatsoever to exist and which shows how much contempt that Disney now has for its older fans. I briefly mentioned Mr. Disney himself earlier, and not very positively, but, while he would have probably loved the animated Beauty And The Beast [a film he actually tried to get off the ground several times], I think he’d hate what the company is doing now with its older films. Millions of kids have traditionally grown up with Disney cartoons for many decades, but incredibly this actually seems to be something that Disney is now trying to change. And Beauty And The Beast shows their corporate greed, creative bankruptcy and insulting arrogance at its very worst. Shame on you!