You know what I hate most about remakes? They are constant reminders that we aren’t getting any younger. You’re just moseying along, feeling great, sniffing the flowers, and then the news comes flying in from out of left field that a beloved classic like Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” – one you have very clear memories of attending at the local cinema as an adult – is coming back for another go, complete with a fresh new cast and (we hope) take on the story. It can be a real slap in the face sometimes, especially if your recollection of the original viewing involved being outdoors with a speaker hanging off the window.
Am I totally against remakes in any shape or form? No, not at all. One of my favorite films of all time, John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, is a remake, and David Cronenberg’s re-do of “The Fly” is also pretty high up on my list. The recent return to the “The Planet of the Apes” is actually the third time around for our hairy heroes, and those are some damn fine flicks as well. If you’re just going to give me a lazy rehash that’s going to do nothing more than put a stain on something I have loved for 20 plus years, then leave me out of it. However, if you’re going to recapture a lot of what made the original so special, and do it in an exciting new way, I’m more than on board. I’m ready to set sail to wherever you want to take me.
Which brings us back to Disney’s latest remake of one of their animated lovelies, director Bill Condon’s live-action redux of “Beauty and the Beast”. If you are not aware of this story in some shape or form, I truly pity you because it means you haven’t just been living under a rock your entire life, but underneath Mount freakin’ Everest.
Let’s just keep it simple: Girl meets beast, girl hates beast, beast hates everything, girl likes beast, beast gets funny feelings, everything gets lovey dovey, and it’s happily ever after for all involved, except maybe the moron villain. You know how it goes. You don’t usually find any M. Night Shyamalan twists at the end of these things.
So, is this one of those special remakes that will charm the pants off new and old generations alike, or is it just a quick cash-grab meant to raise the moola level a few feet higher in Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin way down there in the Magic Kingdom? Well, rest easy folks. This is not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. It is actually a very, very nice movie that is beautifully filmed and packs a few emotional punches here and there. Now, I know the word “nice” – even with a couple of verys in front of it – may not be the praise you were expecting. Like you, I was completely and utterly charmed by the trailer and promotional stills that first appeared online. I mean, how could you not be? That familiar, haunting melody, the rose, and Hermoine Granger herself peering out at the screen. Boom, I’m so in, right? Well, slow down there a bit, Hoss. Things may not be as a rosy as they first appeared. Pun not really intended, but I’ll let it stand.
While the movie has a lot going for it, and much to crow about, it is ultimately denied a place on the mantle of greatness because one cannot help but compare it to the original. Aside from a couple of new scenes and tunes, and some padding to the backstories of a few of the characters, this is essentially a shot-by-shot remake of the original, right down to the costumes. And that is what really hurts it. As the movie opened with that famous scene of Belle, book in hand, meandering her way through the quaint little village she calls home, I wasn’t taken in by the sights and sounds before me, but rather reminded of a similar theater experience – and a few small screen viewings – from years before. As beautiful as everything was, I couldn’t help but be yanked out of the scene as I was hit by cinematic deja-vu over and over with every corner Belle turned. This problem continues to crop up throughout the entire film. Over and over, just as I was starting to get settled in, bang, I was yanked right back out again. It did get a bit annoying.
Not only that, but a lot of the humor fell flat because I already knew what the punchline/payoff was. I could see it coming a mile away and was often mouthing the words in time with the characters. When Babette the feather duster says to Lumiere the candlestick, “I’ve been burnt by you before”, it doesn’t pack quite the same punch as it did back in ’91. Damn, has it really been that long?
And if you’re going to replicate an iconic scene right down to the camera moves, you better be damn sure that if it doesn’t outdo the original, it at least matches it. Sadly, you can guess what happens at times here. Remember, how the camera flew down from the ceiling and past the chandelier in the original during the ballroom dance scene? Great moment, right? Well, this time around it didn’t quite have the same oomph. Not even close. And it’s noticeable. Very.
Whoa, whoa. This review is getting pretty grim. You said it was a very, very nice movie. It sure as hell doesn’t sound like it. Surely, that must be it for the bad points.
Sadly, no. Brace yourself, because this one is a bit of a biggie. Ahem. I don’t think Emma Watson did a particularly good job as Belle.
Now, now, she wasn’t horrible. She has some really good moments in this, usually when she’s getting angry or expressing some other strong emotion. Unfortunately, for a lot of the movie, I thought she appeared kind of empty. There was a sort of vacancy to her performance. A flatness. It’s a bit hard to describe, actually. She just didn’t seem to have that spark that Belle should have. I think this will be noticeable once you see it.
And the same can be said for a lot of the characters in the village. They were often just….there. The two who managed to stand out were Josh Gad as Lefou and Luke Evans as Gaston. They seemed to be having the most fun. Between the two, I would say Lefou was my favorite. There’s been a lot of negative talk about making his character homosexual, but I think it was a genius move. It added a fun dimension to Gaston’s chubby sidekick, and gave the movie something new and all its own. Lefou is sure to be a crowd favorite. And I admired Evans’ take on Gaston, though I’m not a huge fan of the filmmakers adding PTSD to his background in an attempt to explain why he is such a dick. Gaston is not someone we need to be sympathetic. Sometimes, a dick should be allowed to be a dick for pure dickiness sake.
Damn, that is a lot of negativity. In hindsight, maybe I should knock off one of those verys. Maybe both.
But you know what? A funny thing happened early on in the film. As I was sitting there, enjoying the nostalgia more than anything else, I was blindsided. It was completely unexpected. It was during the scene where Belle is running from a pack of wolves. If you’ve seen the original, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and it goes down exactly the same way. If you haven’t seen the original….uhhh, spoiler alert….wolves. Anyways, after the dustup between the Beast and the wolves, there is a moment where the Beast, tired and wounded, looks over his shoulder at Belle. Boom! Bloody hell, ya got me. The look on that poor creature’s face gutted me and rescued the film.
At the end of “King Kong” (both the original and the remake), we hear the famous line, “It was beauty killed the beast”. Well, in this, it was Beast that saved the Beauty. This film owes a huge debt to Dan Stevens and everyone involved in bringing the cursed prince to furry life. Even though it was near impossible to escape the flashes of the past and the CGI was a little too obvious at times, whenever the Beast was on the screen I was enthralled. His eyes alone expressed so much, and the way he moved, the way he talked….you can’t turn away from him. This is what people are talking about when they use the word “presence”. Unfortunately, when he wasn’t there, things did start to lag a bit again, but I knew he wouldn’t be gone for long before he came roaring back. Literally and figuratively.
Ironically, it is the animated characters who show the most life in this. Whenever they are on screen, Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Nathan Mack (Chip), and all the other furniture – like their master – are a joy to behold. Again, they are often playing out scenarios we’ve seen before, but the talented performers and programmers take them to an emotional level that allows them to transcend the nostalgia and memories and once again bring the magic.
There are a few new scenes and songs in this, and while they may never be as iconic as the originals, they were welcome. Bill Condon guides the film along with a steady – if not overly inspired – hand. I do wish that the director of a couple of favorites of mine – “Gods and Monsters”, “Mr. Holmes” – had put more of his own stamp on some of the scenes rather than just copying what had been done before, but c’est la vie.
The production design is a wonder, and if they were on a mission to bring the animated world we know so well to life, they did a bang-up job. The Beast’s castle and grounds in particular were gorgeous, and the lofty towers where the final drama plays out were the perfect stage for the “Battle for Belle”. This is a world that needs to be seen on the big screen.
If you are going into this without having seen the original, I truly envy you. I think you will enjoy it much more than I did considering it will all be so new and fresh. That is why I am reluctant to score this film too low. It is a good movie. Sadly, it just exists under a mighty enormous shadow.
This new “Beauty and the Beast” will never top the original, and it will never take anything away from it either. It is a flawed film, but not a bad one. For those unfamiliar with what came before, I reckon it may even become a classic in its own right. I hope it does.
For a tale as old as time, there is still some magic there.
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad
Written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Directed by Bill Condon