Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast - Movie Review

Of the dozen or so Disney Princess movies Beauty and the Beast is probably my favourite (Aladdin, despite containing a great princess in the form of Jasmine, is a Disney Prince movie so therefore does not count). The animation is excellent, the characters are brilliant, with a strong lead character in Belle and an amazingly enjoyable villain in the form of Gaston, and the majority of the songs, including Belle, Gaston and Be Our Guest, are all well written and catchy. It’s not too big a surprise then that the film became the first ever animated film to be nominated for Best Picture, and whilst it lost out to the inimitable The Silence of the Lambs it was still a landmark achievement for such an excellent film.

So needless to say I sighed a wary sigh when it was announced that Disney was going to do a live action version, and their track record gave me natural cause for concern. Both Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent were terrible, obnoxious attempts to spin their respective stories to make them darker and edgier, whilst Cinderella was merely a decent attempt to update the story. Last year’s The Jungle Book was a good step up though, with fantastic special effects, excellent voice work and a darkening of the source material that managed to work as it didn’t cloud out the lighter and more enjoyable aspects of the original film. This boosted my confidence in the remake of Beauty and the Beast, hoping that Disney had now found their groove in their live-action remakes.

Sadly though, Beauty and the Beast is more like Cinderella; it’s just fine and nothing more. Whilst the movie is expanded significantly, going from 85 minutes to 130 minutes, nothing of particular worth is added into the story and it ends up making the whole film feel bloated and causes the pacing to be more sluggish. Special mention goes to a scene featuring a portal book, a new addition that allows the Beast and Belle to travel anywhere they desire. Not only is the use of the book utterly mundane – it’s used to take Belle to see how her mother died of plague, a scene that doesn’t add anything at all and doesn’t shock at all despite the fact that it’s generally played as a secret – but it’s completely discarded right after that, leaving plot holes concerning its use following – why doesn’t Belle or the Beast use it to escape in the final battle? Elements like these only end up making the film less interesting to sit through and leaves you just waiting until they get to the more enjoyable moments – the beats previously recycled in the animated film.

Meanwhile the casting is a mixed bag. Both Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are fine in their roles as Belle and the Beast but aren’t exceptional; Watson in particular comes off as rather stilted at times. Additionally neither actor are particularly good singers, which is most accentuated in the brand new song Evermore sung by the Beast; Stevens’ voice often strains to reach the notes, bringing down the song quite significantly. Overall, whilst neither Watson nor Stevens are particularly bad they certainly aren’t great. Similarly the voices of the household objects are overall not particularly good. Ian McKellen fares the best as the booming voice of pompous clock Cogsworth but his role in the film feels much more limited than the animated version, therefore making it seem like a waste of such a great actor. This is even more the case with Stanley Tucci voicing harpsichord Fortenza who might as well not even be in the film due to how inconsequential the character is – this is made more blatant by the fact that the character was added especially for this remake, which would therefore indicate that he would be a more important character than he turns out to be. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor demonstrates one of the most over-the-top French accents in recent memory as romantic candlestick Lumière whilst Audra McDonald is incredibly obnoxious as wardrobe Madame Gardrobe. The nadir of the voice cast however is Emma Thompson as teapot Mrs. Potts. Whilst Thompson usually has a lovely speaking voice, here she’s doing perhaps the most annoying Cockney accent this side of Dick van Dyke (and he was American, he at least had an excuse!). This is most demonstrated during the songs sung by Mrs. Potts, notably Beauty and the Beast, which turns what should be the most notable scene of the film into a chore to sit through.

The saving graces of the cast come from the human supporting characters. Luke Evans is very good as the villainous Gaston, capturing the enjoyably exuberant arrogance of the original character whilst attaining a somewhat darker edge. It also helps that Evans is a rather good singer, as indicated in his bombastic performance of Gaston’s villain song. Josh Gad is also enjoyable to watch as Gaston’s goofy sidekick Le Fou who demonstrates somewhat romantic feelings for his master. Whilst Gad has been very obnoxious in films such as Pixels he thankfully dials things back and provides good comic relief, as well as being the best singer of the cast. Finally, although he doesn’t have a great deal of screen time, Kevin Kline provides a warm touch as Belle’s supportive father Maurice and becomes perhaps the most sympathetic character in the cast. These three certainly help to boost the film significantly.

Another general positive of the film is the production design. The set design of the village where Belle lives and the castle inhabited by the Beast are both very well done, feeling very much like the animated film bought to life, whilst the costume design is also excellent. The same can’t really be said about the character design, however. The Beast doesn’t look nearly intimidating enough for his early scenes and the horns in his head prove to be off-putting throughout. Even worse is the design of the household objects which aim for a more realistic look. Cogsworth doesn’t look too bad, as he has perhaps the most cartoon-ish look to him, but the other characters, particularly Lumière, give off a somewhat creepy vibe in an attempt to look more realistic.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast is by no means a bad movie, but it is not an especially good one. It adds little of worth to the original film and stretches it out to from a nicely streamlined cartoon to a bloated and overlong piece. The majority of the character designs don’t work in live-action and suffer from trying to be more realistic, whilst the work of the actors and the singers are overall unexceptional, Evans, Gad and Kline notwithstanding. As such, even though this movie is already a massive success at the box office, I seriously doubt it will supplant the original and better film; this version merely plays out as a competent but not particularly mind-blowing cover version; it almost feels like the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho at times due to how frequently it feels like a shot-for-shot remake of the animated film, and it only serves to remind me just how good the original was.

But I’ll say this, at least they didn’t try and go obnoxiously over-the-top dark and edgy (looking at you, Alice and Maleficent…)

Beauty and the Beast – Directed by Bill Condon, screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, produced by David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman, starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbtha-Raw, Audra McDonald, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson. A Mandeville Films production, a Disney film.

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