Disney’s been on a bit of a hot streak lately doing live action remakes of its classic animated films. I’ve only relatively recently made it a habit to try to get to the movies at least once a week, but last year’s The Jungle Book was quite a bit of fun and visual razzle-dazzle.
So, how about we try that with the more recent Beauty and the Beast?
It didn’t work out quite so well this time.
See, one of the things that struck me as I watched the movie was this: why did this get made? Yes, the obvious reason was to get butts in seats and sell tickets, but any form of entertainment needs to have some sort of purpose. I was thinking the same thing while watching the first few episodes of Iron Fist. The thing existed, and that was all anyone seemed to care about. With The Jungle Book, the two stories were noticeably different between versions, though that may have as much to do with the fact that aside from the basic character names and the fact Mowgli was raised by wolves, there really isn’t much in the old Jungle Book movie that makes it a particularly distinctive story for many people. Large scale changes can be made, and no one would mind or even possibly notice. The same isn’t really true for Beauty and the Beast. Pretty much everyone knows that story.
As such, there doesn’t seem to be many changes as the story goes to live action. It’s about a half hour longer, contains a couple new songs, and the rest looks like a very faithful remake. If the remake is going to be that faithful, why make it at all?
Though, for the record, I’ve never seen the original animated Beauty and the Beast in its entirety. I’ve seen enough, know most of the better known songs, and that’s that. I don’t have any kids, and it came out during a period where I didn’t take in any children’s films. Ryan, who enjoyed the movie much more than I did, says the new scenes fill in plot holes from the original.
But the big problem here is I find the movie seems so flat. Compare it to the lively and colorful La La Land and it doesn’t come out as well. The movie opens after a short prologue explaining the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) situation and then cuts to Belle (Emma Watson). She’s a snobby bookworm who thinks life in what looks like a pleasant provincial French town is awful because there aren’t enough books. I don’t see much in the way of poverty, and the Beast-as-prince’s crushing tax system seems to be gone, so what’s to complain about aside from dumb hunk Gaston (Luke Evans) trying to get Belle to marry him despite the fact they’re about as compatible as oil and a zippo lighter?
By the way, if that’s Emma Watson’s singing voice, I’ll eat my nonexistent hat.
Watson is rather wasted in the role, and Stevens (currently crushing it on Legion) is almost unnecessary as he spends most of the movie as a special effect with his voice digitally altered. Any handsome actor would have done fine there. About the only actor I thought was worth seeing was Kevin Kline as Belle’s daffy father. Kline’s effortless charisma carries the film a lot better than anyone around him, but he’s in a supporting role and can’t possibly do it all by himself.
What makes this all dispiriting is the fact that director Bill Condon’s actually a pretty good director. He’s made some fantastic films with Ian McKellen (here playing Cogsworth the clock) such as Gods and Monsters and Mr. Holmes. Heck, he even made a Twilight movie that almost didn’t suck (only almost). There doesn’t seem to be much creativity or spirit going on with his direction, and it hurts the movie. It’s a bit of a wonder to look at with the special effects, but that’s about it. Seven and a half hints at LeFou’s sexuality out of ten. Pretty to look at, Kline was a delight, but not much else to recommend for adults.