Beauty and The Beastly Remake

“Beauty and the Beast” movie poster.

by Josh Morris

This year’s Beauty and the Beast should not exist. But… it does.

Oh, well.

Although not “as old as time,” the tale should be familiar by now: a cursed prince, a curious maiden, a dying rose and unexpected love.

I admit upfront that it was, undoubtedly, not an easy task for director Bill Condon to make a live-action/CGI version of the story. But I’ve also wondered (and still do) why that idea is so appealing in the first place. After all, it isn’t unheard of for an animated feature to reach the apogee of the medium; the 1991 Disney classic (I’ll refer to it as “BATB”) did,  and was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. Yet audiences continue to churn out demand for the live-action version of just about anything.

Cartoons are people too!

Still, my intention was to give “Beauty and the Beast” a fair chance.  My vision for this review  was to segregate the film from BATB and critique it accordingly.  

But Disney has made it extremely difficult for me to do that. They seemingly made it their mission to create an exact replica of BATB; or as close to one as possible. Its counterfeit and unnecessary. Even at its best, “Beauty and the Beast” hardly captures the magic of its predecessor.

It’s not that remakes, per se, should be fundamentally opposed. Blatant money-grabs on the other hand….

There is, however, one creative choice in “Beauty and the Beast” I fully applaud: when the last rose pedal falls, it isn’t just The Beast who’s condemned. Before film’s end, all of the castle’s cursed creatures deteriorate into lifelessness: Lumière is a cold candelabra, Cogsworth a voiceless clock and Mrs. Potts a faceless vessel.  They all lose their lives. Their humanity is sacrificed. But their resurrection from that drab existence is triumphant.

Character-wise,  there is a notable improvement in the more human and redeemable LeFou. He’s undeniably charming and sympathetic. Josh Gad is delightful in the expanded role. (#TeamLeFou).

Gaston has the most genuine reincarnation through Luke Evan’s performance. The humorous bravado, the jealous rage and the arrogant smirk; it’s all there.  The “Gaston” musical number is this film’s high point.

Likewise, Emma Watson is appealing as Belle and sings beautifully. Unfortunately, the character is written without any detectable fear of The Beast, so her  affection towards him develops too immediately, feels hollow and is less meaningful. Their interactions rarely ring true, and their romance comes across as disingenuous.

Furthermore, The Beast himself is not very frightening or threatening. Yeah, he’s got fur, but he’s not furious.  Sure, he’s got fangs, but he has no bite. He is lacking in bitterness and aggression; therefore, he isn’t  in need of love’s transforming power as much as we’re meant to believe.  He’s no more menacing than Sully from Monsters Inc.

The CGI is unevenly executed. With The Beast, it’s never quite right; not authentic. With the side characters (especially Lumière) it’s spot on. That’s ass-backwards. The Beast should always have felt as real as Gollum. At every moment.

Moreover, the side characters themselves are not as entertaining as they should be. Cogsworth is boring. Madame Garderobe is annoying, and Maestro Cadenza is really quite strange. Lumière (the great Ewan McGregor) gets most of the attention, but his French accent sounds artificial throughout.

Refreshingly, Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts is as warm and comforting as the tea she carries.

Some new songs are added in. Fair enough. “Evermore” is ill-timed, but so be it. Some songs, though, are cut out entirely. Balderdash! “Human Again” is perfection.

The diced editing and fade-to-black segmentation didn’t help any of this.   

Am I biased in my adoration of the 1991 Disney classic? Probably. I grew up with it. I used to act it out on my driveway. As a kid, I gleefully watched the Extended Addition in the theater; it was my first IMAX experience and it was glorious. (I even saw a stage version starring  Christy Carlson Romano at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta and loved it). 

This film’s greatest achievement is that is causes us to crave its predecessor instead.

While remakes  might not generally be “as good,” they may still have merit. Hopefully the live-action versions of “Mulan” and “Lion King” do.

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