A Reboot is a Remake is a Reboot
A film review of (the live action) Beauty and the Beast
The live action repackaging of Disney’s classic animated feature from 1991 is a family friendly, politically correct, inconsistently ethnically diverse, musical that aims to channel the original cinematic magic into a contemporary take on the tale as old as time. This film is a fine product filled with whimsy and fun that will keep children and adults entertained without the mind numbing effects of a Minions movie causing brain cells to evaporate with every passing second. There are several moments that will make you smile, laugh or (in my wife’s case) even cry because every aspect of this production defines professionalism beginning with the performances, held up by the art design and guided by direction. On paper, by the numbers, this product delivers every single thing one expects from a Disney production in a safe, perfectly formed, box of vanilla chocolates where you know exactly what you’re going to get.
Except … the immediate thought that came to mind once the pattern of precise cinematic replication was confirmed within the film’s first act was Gus Van Sant’s re-cre-adaptation of Psycho back in 1998. Like this production, Van Sant was not intent on re-imagining the original source material because that would require some level of narrative deconstruction, conceiving at least one story element that was original and then applying it to the major plot points and subplots yielding something different. Van Sant’s Psycho was a literal, shot for shot, copycat of its original counterpart with the only twist being that it was shot in color as opposed to black and white. Save for a couple new original songs added to this film, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is the same kind of copycat featuring the exact same lines, cinematography, songs and circumstances with the twist being that it is live-action. I was stunned how blatant of a Xerox job this was especially in light of Jon Favreau’s live action Jungle Book which was an adaptation that was clearly a different experience from its animated predecessor.
Reboots and remakes are a fact of life in the business of entertainment, and I do not care for them in the principals of rewarding lazy writing and idea conception, stunting originality and duping consumers into repurchasing that which they’ve already seen, heard and experienced. That being said, some of them can be entertaining like Ocean’s 11 (2001), some can be thought provoking in the shifting details of the plot like Scarface (1983) and some can just deliver more impact than the original like Dawn of the Dead (2004). None of these examples should be considered as “better” than their originals, but there is value in some of these because an effort was made to try something different and is reflected in their quality. 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is most alarming because its quality is beyond question. It would be much easier to chastise it for its unoriginality if it was a pathetically flaccid example of filmmaking; it is not. Unfortunately, this film falls into the class of most egregious examples of shameless remakes because it makes no apologies for its moment to moment duplication. The animated feature from 1991 already did everything this film does, but better and not simply because it did it first.
Musicals naturally require a significant amount of movement and it does a fine job of mimicking stage direction of a large chorus of people moving, dancing and singing in a coordinated fashion. Choreography is on point, but also not demanding. Combat sequence in the end is serviceable.
Excellent framing and variety throughout by using ornate digital wide shots to allow the audience to appreciate all shifts in setting. Localized framing uses similar dynamic camera positioning and movement to add drama in most moments like the animated classic.
Emma Watson is fine as Belle, but she is by no means perfectly cast for this role if for any other reason that her voice is overpowered by everyone else in the cast not named Josh Gad. Dan Stevens is equally serviceable as the voice of the Beast. Points off for bland chemistry between the two leads because visually it comes off exactly like Watson is pantomiming a relationship with an imaginary friend.
The supporting cast absolutely outshines the leads in every way, but most particularly in terms of vocal prowess. Luke Evans as Gaston stands apart even from this stellar crew as an incredibly strong singer and whose performance yields a much more three dimensional character than most film villains are capable of.
All the classic tunes along with the iconic orchestrated theme are here. Point deduction for varying degrees of vocal proficiency, point addition for new songs and therefore new moments of character building, point deduction for not matching the musical immensity of the original.
The Beast’s snarls and growls are great, how the enchanted objects move about the environment sound realistic, some of the magical effects are toned down a bit like the magic mirror, the white wolves in the forest sound unnaturally as ferocious as the Beast who is 3 times their size.
“Moving” = 24/33
Magic looks beautiful, enchanted objects are exquisite, but the Beast … no, no, no. He looks and feels flat in every scene, like someone is holding a cardboard cutout of him that Emma has to interact with.
There’s a little bit of pyro and a little bit of stunt work, but not a lot of demand in this category.
Wonderful. Absolutely no complaints here.
Hair & Makeup
I realize they were going for the posh French aristocrat white face composition and it is intentionally meant to look bad, but it still looks bad. Everyone else looks fine.
Exterior shots are entirely built on soundstages and it is a shame no natural exteriors could be used probably due to the green screen effects to input the Beast into these shots. Still, they look natural enough such as Belle’s village to sell the illusion.
Exquisite. The set designers absolutely outdid themselves by the layered commonality of the village and the decadence of Beast’s castle.
“Picture” = 25/33
A young girl wishes for adventure and excitement, rebels against the status quo and never hesitates to jump to action when the opportunity presents itself, regardless of the danger.
Mostly metaphor for people fighting against preconceptions and stereotypes in order to find the “beauty” within so as to accept each other for who we are. An important life lesson presented in the form of fairy tale. Ignorance and intolerance must be fought by kindness and enlightenment.
Everything resolves a bit too conveniently to circumstance with minimal direct conflict and without the same kind of relationship building moments from the animated feature these happy moments of victory don’t seem as momentous.
Really guys? You couldn’t do a bit more than photocopying the original script? Sure, it’s effective, but dang. Slight variations with Gaston’s and Bell’s father’s dialogue barely makes this an even split.
The audience finds out a little bit more about Belle’s background thanks to one additional scene not present in the original and the film’s opening moments do a good enough job to relay what the audience needs to know to jump right into the music and the fun. More of the back story gets revealed along the way effectively through organic dialogue and action.
Belle is as inspiring and independent as before, Gaston is a much more interesting villain with psychological issues beyond extreme narcissism, and then of course there is the Beast and those enchanted objects which steal every scene when they are featured.
Everyone can relate to Belle because everyone feels the status quo commanding you to do one thing, yet you may feel the opposite. Beast’s own ignorance and self love has a bit more realistic explanation outside of being born rich. Any parent can relate to Belle’s father and his overprotective nature.
“Story” = 26/34
Overall MPS Rating: *75/100
Beauty and the Beast is a fine piece of cinematic entertainment to be taken with the caveat that this film cannot stand on its own due to so much reproduction from the original animation, thus the asterisk. This film, literally, cannot exist without it and while some may consider that comment to be unfair, all remakes and reboots invite this exact criticism and all but dare everyone in the audience to call them out for it. As good as this live-action adaptation is I invite every single person alive to see Disney’s animated classic for two reasons: 1) The live-action doesn’t quite have that magical “it” factor to it and 2) The animated feature is superior in every single way. Need further proof? The animated Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture in 1992 losing to Silence of the Lambs. It was a time LONG before they invented a “Best Animated Feature” category AND when only 5 films were allowed to be nominated in a given year. 2017’s Beauty and the Beast will not be recognized in the same light.