March 31st, 2017. We’d been planning this night for months. My partner and two of our dearest friends on a cheesy double date to the highly anticipated Beauty and the Beast.
We all met up, oh-so-Australian Malteasers in hand, and went to get the tickets in an episode which would prove to be more dramatic than the film. Here’s a detailed plan on how to make getting tickets far more complicated than it should be.
- Turn up and head to the kiosk.
- Discover that the next session is Xtreme Screen and the only seats left are in the very front row. Discuss as a group whether you really want to be that close.
- Check movie times across the road via phone. Race over to the other cinema only to discover that one is in 3D. Another group discussion follows.
- The theatre staff say that the ads are still playing at the 7:35 session and we can make it. Buy the tickets, rush in, and discover the film is halfway through the song Belle.
- Leave the theatre, get a refund and go back to the original theatre to get the Xtreme Screen tickets. Discover they have also sold out.
- After even MORE discussion, get tickets for the 8:45 session, now one hour away. Also the Xtreme Screen in the front row.
- Go kill time at San Churros where you order New York Cheesecake instead of churros.
At 8:45pm, we finally took our reclining seats and the film began. All those months of anticipation, all the excitement of seeing my favourite animated Disney film in the flesh, on the big screen.
I left in a state of mixed emotions and mainly asking “Why?” I don’t even know if I can actually decide how I feel about the movie.
Alright, alright, put your torches and pitchforks down for a second and relax. I don’t hate this movie. I don’t even dislike it. There were aspects of the film I absolutely loved. Aspects that were, dare I say, even a slight improvement over the almost flawless 1991 film. Credit must always go where credit is due.
That being said though, I can’t sit back and pretend that this movie even comes close to the brilliance of the original film or the Broadway adaptation. Nor can I ignore the glaring problems with the film.
In the interest of keeping my blog shorter than the Bible, let’s get down to some ground rules. First off, this is not about the debate over whether Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome or bestiality. Those arguments are irrelevant and frankly boring to me. Secondly, if you disagree, more power to you. For all criticism of any art form, good or bad, there’s always going to be conflicting perspectives and we should only learn from them.
The animated Beauty and the Beast is bar none my favourite Disney animated film. Everything about it is almost perfect. The characters are memorable, well-written and interesting. Belle is arguably the best female lead in the whole Disney canon. Top three, easily. The movie engulfs itself in the fairytale and throws a few twists along the way. The villain is not your typical bad guy; he’s actually the town hero but failing to get his way turns him to more desperate and evil measures. The animation is spectacular. The music is one of the best scores ever written. It was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Possibly it’s the reason we have a Best Animated category at all. (Time out – Moana should have won this year. I’ve been stewing over that for weeks! Ok ok, stay on topic…)
The point is, the 1991 original is about as perfect an animated film as you can get. So…really, why remake it at all? What was the reasoning behind it? I know Disney is all about live action remakes lately. And while I can understand the logic of wanting to ‘correct’ the mistakes of the past with Maleficent – which failed hard – Cinderella or The Jungle Book, with a movie as good and timeless as Beauty and the Beast, it just really seems unnecessary.
But to be fair, it’s entirely possible for a remake to be great, and when I first heard of the remake, I was keen. Maybe a remake of Beauty and the Beast could focus on some aspects of the Beast’s past, or go into greater detail about Belle. I was open to it, and even kind of excited.
All the characters in Beauty and the Beast are nothing short of iconic, and so it only seems logical that the remake have the finest possible cast as well.
When the casting was announced for the remake, I got even more hyped. Emma Watson as Belle? Makes sense. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere? Yes please. Kevin Kline as Maurice? I’ll watch that any day. Ian McKellen as Cogsworth? Absolutely. Josh Gad as Lefou? That works, obviously. Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts? Definitely. Living theatrical goddess Audra McDonald? I’m sold. I had no idea who Dan Stevens (Beast) and Luke Evans (Gaston) were and I admit that with no shame whatsoever.
Obviously this new cast had big shoes to fill, considering the treasure trove that was the original voice cast. Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Richard White (Gaston), the late Jerry Orbach (Lumiere). But there’s no reason to assume that they can’t reach and even surpass the original.
My verdict? Everyone in the remake is at least watchable. Some are better than others, and this is mainly due to screen time and the writing. Which brings me to….
In the original, Belle is a role model for the ages. She’s kind, but she has her limits. She’s smart, but doesn’t show off. She’s beautiful, but there’s a lot more to her than that.People talk about her, but she doesn’t let that stop her from doing what she loves. She knows she’s destined for greater things and desires something greater than herself.
Emma Watson was a very fitting choice for Belle, not least because of Hermione also being a massive bookworm. And I’m just going to say here, I think Emma Watson is a decent actress, an inspirational person and beautiful both inside and out.
Her performance as Belle is…ok. She certainly knows the character and heaven knows she’s trying. But compare this performance to the animated version and you will be sadly disappointed.
In the original, the way Belle is animated and voice-acted gives her a real identity and they make it absolutely clear that she is unique. She is the only character in her town that wears blue until the Beast shows up. In the remake, Belle is not the only one wearing blue, and not a lot about her really stands out as different. She talks to more people, she doesn’t really act any different, she doesn’t even read that much. In short, she’s not as interesting.
And yes, let’s get to the elephant in the room. Emma Watson’s singing. Um…how can I put this….it was terrible. I’m not even sorry. She cannot sing and anyone who tries to convince me otherwise is fighting a losing battle. And yes, I can judge since I have a qualification in music theatre and have been singing professionally for over seven years.
Not only was her voice shaky, hesitant and auto-tuned beyond belief, but there was zero acting involved and she also sounded like she was trying to imitate an American teen pop sound as opposed to a grand musical theatre style. Sometimes, like the case with The Rock in Moana or Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables, a non-singer can use charm, charisma, or just incredible acting skills to the point where a not-so great sound doesn’t actually matter. Emma Watson does not do this. It’s really uncomfortable to watch and not pleasant to listen to. Add to the fact that the original film had Paige O’Hara, and the original Broadway production starred Susan Egan, and there’s just no way in the world to make such bad singing redeemable.
Frankly, I’m sick to death of Hollywood casting people who can’t sing (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, anyone?) in musicals. If you cannot sing, you have no business being in a musical, let alone one of the most beloved musical films ever. I say either cast real singers or bring back dubbing!
Oh movie. You tried so hard to make the Beast have more of a backstory. You were so close. You mentioned that the Prince only became selfish because of his father’s influence brought about by his mother’s death.
So why in the name of all that’s good and holy didn’t you explore it? It went absolutely nowhere. This could have been fascinating to watch. We could have seen a major character arc, explored the parental influence, commented on the fact that the servants apparently sat back and allowed this to happen. The ‘flashback’ was so brief it was blink-and-you-miss-it! Also, the animation in the original had a zillion times more emotional expression than the CGI thing you stuck on the screen. When Belle sees Maurice is in trouble through the enchanted mirror, the animation shows the Beast actually struggle with what to do, and ultimately make a very painful decision. When Belle arrives at the castle, you see the regret and even awkwardness on his face. You can see the loss of hope when Gaston arrives to kill him. He’s given up. Then when Belle arrives, you can see the resolve to fight back. I could go on and on about this, giving examples of moments with ALL the characters. You feel the changes and emotions through the music, the acting and the drawings. It’s shown, not told and this is why people loved the Beast so much to begin with. He was freaking interesting!
With the remake, the lack of expression makes it harder to have any chemistry between Belle and the Beast. This Beast wasn’t bad by any means…he’s just not as compelling to watch.
However, to be fair, it made a lot more sense for the Beast to be educated in this context, since that makes sense with the time period and also gives him and Belle some more common ground.
Now let’s get to the absolute best things about the film!
I think my mother put it best “I’d watch Kevin Kline do a Coke ad,”
If Kevin Kline has ever given a bad performance, I’m yet to see it, and this film is no exception. He is absolutely beautiful as Maurice and the way he’s written makes the character so much more believable that the original. As mentioned before, he creates music boxes instead of inventions. He’s slightly eccentric, but nowhere near the bumbling fool of 1991. He was brave and could stand up for himself. He has a backstory (although why did he insist on keeping it secret?), he clearly loves his daughter, he’s really fun to watch and that song he sings in his introductory scene…it was magical. He was absolutely perfect in every way.
Gaston and Lefou
I have zero complaints about these two also. Not only are Luke Evan and Josh Gad having the time of their lives in their roles, but Gaston and Lefou have been expanded and made more realistic for a live-action retelling. Gaston being a celebrated soldier makes a lot of sense and having Lefou being given a moral dilemma was quite enjoyable. Every scene with them made me laugh hard.
And in terms of the alleged LGBT moment….I honestly don’t understand why people were having a heart attack over it. It was so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
The objects are fine in the remake and they look great. The acting is good, the designs work, they have some fun moments. You have no trouble believing that this is how people might look if they were turned into these items. But I do have one MAJOR gripe that I simply cannot let slide.
Broadway star Audra McDonald is in this movie. She is a living legend. The woman has the voice of an angel and her acting skills are nearly unrivalled. She could sing the phone book from 1998 and make it enthralling. She has SIX Tony awards, more than anyone in human history. She’s also the only person to win a Tony in every acting category.
How dare you only give Audra McDonald about 6 lines. Shame on you.
Essentially the characters are a mixed bag and so is…..
How can I put this? The movie is almost twice as long as the original yet it felt like it was on fast forward. At times it seemed like an almost shot-for-shot rehash, but all the important moments were almost glanced at.
I didn’t feel there was a single moment when Belle fell in love with the Beast or vice versa. In the original, the Beast knows right from the get-go that Belle could be the one to break the spell. He doesn’t give her a room and actually gets angry at Lumiere for letting her out of the dungeon. He doesn’t invite her to dinner until she’s in her room refusing to come out. He expresses absolutely zero desire to get to know her. In the original, he gives her the library as the most grand romantic gesture possible. He seemed almost bored in the remake. I didn’t believe for a second that they were forming a connection, as none was shown through looks, music or acting. How can the pacing and emotional journey be so superior for an animated film where there’s all kinds of time constraints and restrictions? The original felt like the story was moving, like characters were actually doing something and changing.
That is essentially the main flaw with this remake. It is banking on the fact that you’ve seen the 1991 animated film. This is why characters aren’t as interesting or fleshed out. This is why the most crucial elements of the story are treated as an afterthought. It’s like they thought it wasn’t necessary to throw effort into certain scenes.
There were potentially great plot points that could have been added but were practically glossed over. There was a pre-release mention of Belle being an inventor while Maurice made music boxes and I was totally down with that. But come the movie, and it’s barely even mentioned. The laundry device she supposedly makes appears for about ten seconds. We don’t know how she came up with the idea, how she put it together, or if this is something she does regularly. This could have been an added dimension to an already good character. It was missed. There was a moment where Belle was teaching a little girl to read, which was a lovely scene. But again, ten seconds later and it’s never brought up again. The little girl never reappears and it’s never explored why she would approach Belle.
But the added tangent I actually despised was the scene where Belle and the Beast go into that ridiculous magic book. That was completely pointless and felt like an entirely different movie. Aside from that appalling “tourist” joke which dragged you completely out of the moment, why did this enchanted book even have to be there? It was never mentioned again. Supposedly the Enchantress left it along with the rose and I assume the mirror since the remake never actually said where the enchanted mirror even came from. Again, they rely on the knowledge of the original.
And ok, Belle’s mother died from the plague. Fair enough. So what does Belle do? She brings back that rose pen thing which is presumably infected with plague bacteria and is now going to spread death and destruction everywhere.
And finally, the music. I was sorely disappointed and confused as to why on earth four new songs were written for the film when there were six new songs added to the stage musical.
Though I could stomach the lyric changes well enough, the film’s new songs were generally just not as good. The reason the new songs worked well in the stage show was because they were based in the instrumental score so everything tied together. Home, Maison Des Lunes, No Matter What, A Change in Me, Human Again, If I Can’t Love Her. I was dying to see that last song on the big screen. It’s a beautiful piece of music and a great moment for the Beast. I’ll admit I have a soft spot for Evermore, the Beast’s new number, and the moment in the film was a good spot for a song, but it just didn’t have the power that If I Can’t Love Her had. I sincerely wish that they had simply incorporated the Broadway tracks into the film. That would have been fine. Although I’d be lying if I said I wanted to hear Emma Watson’s attempts to sing Home.
I realise this review is sort of all over the place, but so is the movie. It seems like the film is trying to be a carbon copy of the original we love, and also be it’s own thing. This half-half leaves an inferior remake behind, trying to fix what was never broken.
Beauty and the Beast did not have to be remade, but it has been, so hopefully you can draw your own conclusions and decide whether it’s worth the two hours. I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t say I’ll be rushing to see it again and again. If you go in expecting a masterpiece you probably won’t find it. You’re more likely to come out appreciating the original masterpiece a lot more. Or maybe you’ll find it a delightful film. Either way, be my guest.