Beauty And The Beast - This Movie Rocks In The Shadow Of Its Own Reflection
Dir: Bill Condon
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gadd, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Gugu Mbatha Raw, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci
Let’s keep this simple shall we? This Beauty and the Beast remake (if that’s what it actually is) is a lovely film. It’s thoroughly entertaining, moving even. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle and brings a contemporary quality to the role that is instantly and ultimately winning. Dan Stevens’ Beast is harder to get used to, but again, totally comes to own the part. The supporting cast are delightful to a tee, and the production design is to absolutely die for.
But – and yes, it’s a big BUT – it lives, breathes and fights for survival in the shadow of the original. And by “original” we of course mean that in the Disney sense of things.
The opening number Belle – surely one of the greatest establishing sequences in all of the Disney canon – is beautifully reproduced here. A terrific song is brought to life with a lovely studio bound feeling for the most part, that not only evokes the 1991 animation, but the feel of 1950s Hollywood musicals as well.
Although much heavier on the GCI, the original film’s other standout number, Be Our Guest, is delightful, with Ewan fully really not bothering about his French accent and giving it his all. Which is considerable. They both work extremely well and are great reproductions of the original animated numbers.
And therein lies the rub – they are reproductions. For whatever reasons, Bill Condon has set out to literally bring the cartoon to life, only embellishing it when this screenplay seeks to add some extra backstory (not needed) or some “new” songs from the Broadway musical (not as good as the originals.) The result is that Condon’s film comes across more as a homage than it does a remake. In a curious way it has more in common with Gus Van Sant’s shot by shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho than it does with any film in the Disney universe. As a result certain moments – most noticeably the above mentioned “Belle” and “Be Our Guest” - for all their real-world gusto, are rendered curiously, slightly lifeless. Certainly, more lifeless than their formerly drawn counterparts.
It’s a struggle the film fights with for its whole running time. And it never really gets to grips with what that struggle is – is it with the audience’s own well-earned sense of nostalgia, or with the filmmakers’ reverence for the subject at hand?
Which is not to say there isn’t an awful lot to like about this “version”/remake/homage.
Watson genuinely is terrific with a singing voice that is not exactly a belter but really understands how to perform these songs. Then of course there are the songs themselves – the team of Menken and Ashman at their very finest. (Its noticeable that the newer songs, with Tim Rice replacing the late Howard Ashman as lyricist, are considerably weaker. Rice’s lyrics add declarative statements to Alan Menken’s melodies, where Ashman’s always danced wittily around them, full of humour and unexpected but beautiful rhymes.)
Condon clearly has a strong feel for his subject matter, and proves to be especially good at handling the dramatic nature of the film’s spectacular castle-based denouncement. But once again, he chooses to almost slavishly ape the shots of the original animation.
Beauty and the Beast is a perfectly fine film, but it’s also a film that asks an important question, and one that relates to Disney’s current slate of remaking everything they ever made, and Hollywood in general’s fondness for same – what are we actually watching? Is it something new? Or is it just some slightly new faces and some slightly different voices offering us the things we already know and love? The things that were better the first time around? Something that seeks not to create emotions in you, but to recreate ones you’ve already had. This might just be cinematic comfort food rather than a movie in its own right.
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