BEAUTY AND THE BEAST REVIEW

The live-action version of Beauty and the Beast put our service to the test.

There’s a scene in the live-action Beauty and the Beast where the crudely computer generated Beast is fighting cartoonish computer generated wolves in the snow on what I can only assume is a blend of computer generated imagery and perhaps hopefully a branch or snowy surface on a studio soundstage. Also, Belle (Emma Watson) is there. She is real. She is maybe the only thing that is “live-action” in this scene from the live-action Beauty and the Beast. I thought to myself…

“What does a live-action remake consist of?”

Having a cast of actors in your film, sure. Real sets, obviously. What else? Is that it? Because in the retelling of Disney’s classic animated film we have something that still, at times, feels like it’s mostly animated. Granted, there is imagery of Belle in her village walking and singing or glimpses of the inside and outside of Beast’s castle grounds and it looks great, if not a bit stagey.

The film opens with the Prince in lavish makeup and wig which was quite delightful. You immediately see a real dance hall, costumes, people of color and you think that you may just have something special ahead, but like many remakes this version feels the need to add in some additional story elements that you can completely breakdown with just a few moments thought. The villagers of the town Belle moved to as a baby with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), hate being smart due to the curse the witch put on the Beast and his castle, and they specifically hate reading.  This immediately doesn’t work because there’s a bookseller named, Pére who admires Belle’s love of books. We also find out Mrs. Potts has a husband who lives in the village and doesn’t remember her until after the curse is broken. This opens up many questions; Did the villagers commute to the castle every day? They don’t live on the massive grounds? How does this make sense? And depending on the convenience of the script it takes five minutes or five days to commute back and forth to the castle as well.

Why? What purpose do these additions serve?

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    The highlight and most tangible fun the movie has is with Gaston’s (Luke Evans) and Le Fou’s (Josh Gad) ‘Gaston’ number. They are inside the tavern drinking, singing, and dancing using physical comedy and flourishes that connect in a way that a lot of the other numbers didn’t. Evans and Gad themselves are some of the better performers in Beauty and the Beast as both give just enough depth to this outrageous and over-the-top duo. The addition of Le Fou openly caring and making advances towards the daft Gaston is welcome as is his moral center being the attempted guidance that Gaston desperately needs.

    But what of the other numbers?

    ‘Be Our Guest’ is perhaps wholly animated with the exception of Emma Watson’s occasional reactionary smiles at nothing. It doesn’t translate to the screen in the same way the original animated film did. As nice as it is to hear Ewan McGregor sing in anything (he’s really really wonderful) his performance doesn’t hit where it should because of the silly design of Lumiére and how well that number specifically works for animation.

    The other performances leave a lot to be desired. I adore Dan Stevens and Emma Watson in various ways (Stevens in Legion and The Guest and Watson for her humanitarian work alone), but singers they are not. This Beauty and the Beast adds a few new songs, and they all fall completely flat without a note I can remember. That’s very unfortunate and I admire the attempt to add something new to the original numbers, but it was a miss.

    I will say that despite the awful design and rendering of the Beast, that Dan Stevens was still able to emote and it looked and felt like Dan Stevens. That is a huge success and really odd despite how silly the Beast looks. Seriously, just flip those horns at least! When he shows Belle the library and he then stays to talk about books with her (one of the best additions to this version) you can see him emote. If only they had used makeup and other prosthetics for his character we could have seen more with such a great actor in the role. I think that route would have really added something truly live-action and greatly needed. And can we please stop using cartoony wolves instead of real wolves? I’d even settle for computer wolves that actually look like real wolves. Please see last year’s The Jungle Book as inspiration on how to do this.

    Emma Watson as Belle is okay. I really wish I could say more… There’s not much for her to do and this iteration makes her fully capable as it should, but there’s a lack of fiery energy that was present in the animated film. Her chemistry with Dan Stevens is also there despite it being hidden under thousands of pixels. If only these two had more actual face time other than the ending dance number which had one of the most groan-inducing moments I can remember seeing in recent years. Like, Darth Vader screaming “Nooooooooo!” kind of bad.

    The original animated film is a high point for Disney and truly stands the test of time. This live-action version will and has made all the money, but lacks what it takes to be remembered as something more for a tale as old as time.

    AGAINST POPULAR OPINION | WHY THE LIVE-ACTION BEAUTY AND THE BEAST TRAILER ISN’T GOOD

    Once upon a time, in a faraway land, the memory of nostalgia lived in a shining castle of our minds. Although it had everything it’s memory desired, the nostalgia was spoiled, selfish, and clouded. But then, one winter’s night, an old blogger man came to the castle and offered the nostalgic memory a single bit of truth in return for shelter from the bitter internet who loved or hated everything. Repulsed by his blunt honesty, the nostalgia sneered at the truth and turned the old man away.

    Okay, so that’s a bit on the nose, I admit. But am I really the only one who thought this weeks trailer for the live-action Beauty and the Beast was, well, kind of bad?

    I am?! Cool. This should be fun.

    Let me start off by saying that the original Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorites. Ron Perlman AND Linda Hamilton? I loved watching that show. I also think the 1991 film version by Disney is amongst their best animated works ever. So how could I ever dislike the live-action trailer that’s a shot-for-shot remake of the animated version?

    The answer is in the question. There’s nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing that isn’t achingly familiar.

    I understand what this live-action stuff is about, but can’t we interpret it creatively? Besides changing the designs to inferior looking versions (looking at you Beast horns and Lumiere), this trailer just looks like a traced version of the animated version. I’m a big fan of the warmth of nostalgia, but I’m also aware of the dangers it brings. Midnight In Paris is possibly the best example of this. Woody Allen conveys that people are always wanting to go back to a certain time that’s not their own. When they are able to magically go back in time to that era, the people from that era want to go to another time they believe to be the greatest. It’s hard to make the best of the here and now, but it’s vital that we do. And furthermore, we need to be creative. Create new things, yes, even within the realms of a remake. Look to John Carpenter’s The Thing or even Sam Raimi’s own remake of Evil Dead with Evil Dead II.

    Remember when Gus Van Sant made a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho*? A talented director and cast in an interesting experiment, but it falls flat. There’s something off about it. That’s the same feeling I had when watching this Beauty and the Beast trailer.

    The property and the chance to bring this film into a “real life” setting is a great opportunity and will make allllll the money I’m sure. But I can’t shake the feeling it lacks any original inspiration. The cheesy CG that may not be fully rendered yet (but I would bet those wolves still look like cartoons next March) doesn’t help matters either. It’s exciting to see the production photos and the art direction. Everything we’ve covered has looked great (besides those Beast horns) and I do still look forward to this.

    But I’ve learned a lesson about fandom clouding my thoughts.

    Instead of going into detail about this I’ll simply just say the “Star Wars Prequels” and leave it at that. I’d also like to point out that this allows me to look at things that I genuinely do enjoy like The Force Awakens, but realize they still have problems. After seeing that one I was cautious about my opinion and it took me seeeing it a few times to decide where I really was on it. The trailers I loved from the beginning, however, they never looked like a shot-for-shot remake of the original films, but embodied that feeling we loved so much. As it turned out, The Force Awakens is as close to a remake of the original Star Wars we’re ever likely to get while also still giving us a bevy of new characters and expands the universe, albeit clumsily.

    So to jump back to that opening narration from the animated Beauty and the Beast“But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within. And when he dismissed her again, the old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress. The prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart.” I do have love (and hope!) in my heart that the live-action version surprises me and I can see the beauty found within, but for now the witches warts are pretty obvious.

     

    * In all fairness, it wasn’t a COMPLETE shot-for-shot remake. He did insert things that were different, including an opening shot Hitchcock wanted to do, but technology prevented him from accomplishing. The shot is a complete pan/zoom over the city into Marion’s hotel room that Hitchcock had to use multiple dissolves to achieve a similar look.

    Another Sneak Peek at Disney’s Live-Action BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

    You guys, I really can’t express how excited I am for Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast!

    Although just a small clip, this featurette gives me goosebumps. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are perfect.

    Not only will the Beauty and the Beast 25th Anniversary Addition contain bonus feature for the upcoming theatrical release, it will also have four different versions of the classic animated film. FOUR. Did you know there were four versions? I didn’t and I will certainly be picking up a copy when it’s released (Digital HD September 6th and Blu-ray September 20th).