Back in 1991 the Oscars made film history, by nominating an animated film for best picture; that film was Beauty and the Beast. Today it still remains a Disney classic, loved by all. To me Beauty and the Beast is one of the best films the studio has ever produced! It’s one of those rare films where every time I see it I love it more. So when Disney mentioned that it was getting the live-action treatment I was understandably sceptical. But it started getting positive reviews and word of mouth was very good too. I booked tickets to see it, which was a good idea because the showing was full, and sat and watched a new take on the tale as old as time.
The story…you know what, I really shouldn’t have to tell you the story. We all know it; a prince is turned into a beast for his selfishness, his staff into ornaments and utensils, and is cursed to remain so unless he discovers true love. Love found in a selfless, kind-hearted and of course beautiful girl. The film this time does add more to the story, with numerous subplots and backstories to flesh out the world, as well as twisting the rules of the curse a bit.
So, what did I like about this film? I will say that Kevin Cline as Belle’s father was a surprisingly inspired choice. He was charming, worked well with Emma Watson and you related to him almost instantly. He was also funny, being Kevin Cline and all. There is actually a nice early scene with Belle and her father; the scene is almost told completely visually. It’s just a lovely scene. There’s a really good twist with the rose and the castle. You see in this version when a petal from the rose falls the castle crumbles a little. And when it does the inhabitants become less human and more like the objects they are becoming. This leads to a pretty good moment towards the end. And I have just mentioned the best scenes in the film, but they are really good scenes. And…umm…yep that’s it. Okay time to make some enemies.
Emma Watson, this woman can’t sing! She hits the notes but she can’t hold them. It’s unfair of me to say that though, to be fair…because the same can be said about every single member of this cast! And Watson is giving possibly the worst performance of her career. I don’t blame her though, because there was nothing for her to work with. The comparisons to Paige O’Hara are unavoidable at this point, but we also have a terrible script and complete misdirection. She just felt completely miscast. But again, that isn’t fair to say to her because (with the exception of Cline) everyone felt miscast. This cast includes Dan Stevens as Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Josh Gad as LaFou, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts and Stanley Tucci as a piano. How do you make every single one of these actors feel completely out of place? McKellen sounds miserable all the time, I can’t tell what accent McGregor was doing but it wasn’t French and Emma Thompson, one of my favourite actresses, stop impersonating Angela Lansbury! Even Luke Evans as Gaston, who starts the film with such promise, becomes so hard to watch towards the end. Gaston is one of my favourite Disney characters, and personally I always saw him as a Bruce Campbell like figure, big and over-the-top and just silly with a hint of madness. This guy is just unpleasant and not entertaining to watch in the slightest, after the butchering of tavern song “Gaston”.
This film was directed by Bill Condon, the man who gave us Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2. That should tell you all you need to know about this film’s quality. He has a horrible habit of giving us lovely, gorgeous sets and locations and then shooting them in such an unflattering and sometimes blurry shot. Also, Belle’s village is like Hook in how obviously it’s a set on a studio. The action shots are not chaotically shot and you can tell what is going on in then: Hurray! But the action itself is slow, uninspired and badly choreographed: Boo! And the special effects are a mixed bag. Beast and the inhabitants of the castle look good for the most part, although each of them has that one shot where they just look terrible. The wolves look alright but are clearly made in a computer. But the castle looks awful! It’s passable in establishing shots when it’s just the castle, but when it’s a person looking out of a window or down from a rafter then it’s Gods of Egypt bad with how obvious the green screen is. And the designs of the living furniture, which was once cute, is now hideous. These characters are horrible to look at now.
But what kills Beauty and the Beast here is the writing. Everything else aside the writing, coupled with the directing is just a travesty. It is trying to be different, it really is but it also copies too much from the original. When it tries to be new though, it doesn’t nearly live up to its potential. Examples are: the revelation that the Beast had a horrible father who made him as he is today. That’s just glanced over. Why? LaFou is now gay; great, go LGBT rights. But it’s just an unsubtle and undeveloped character point that it just doesn’t work, and feels more like an executive decision to get more people in the cinemas with controversy. Belle’s mother died of the plague. What does that have to do with a beast in a castle? And when they do the ball scene, crapping on a musical masterpiece as they do so, we get a shot of the decorations shaped like instruments playing the music. That’s great and really creative, but’s it’s just one shot, why?
And how can I forget about, what I have called, The Book Of Plotholes! There’s a book in the castle that teleports you to wherever you want. I don’t mean as an illusion, it actually teleports you. This makes the whole story mute! Gone is the isolation! Gone is the character’s common sense! And fuelled is the theme of Stockholm syndrome! It’s like they feel they should restrict themselves for familiarities sake.
And when it’s just playing the original it’s nowhere near as good. Examples: when Belle leaves the Beast sings about his feelings. Forgetting that this is a forgettable song (if that makes sense), this is far less emotionally effective as the Beast just roaring in emotional pain in the original. Belle’s father is going somewhere and gets lost on the road. In this version I have no idea where he’s going, the market I suppose, but how do you lose the road to the market? The Beast is fighting Gaston, nearly kills him; here Beast says “I’m not a beast”. That’s true, but in the original that’s told only through his facial expressions. But the kicker to me was when Belle wishes to go back and save her father. Here she says that her father needs her help…and Beast says go to him straight away. In the original, he looks at her, then the mirror, and then the rose; he has a look of horror as he sees how few petals there are, but then softens, cradling the rose and then tells her that he has set her free. Five emotions compared to absolutely none! That could have been avoided if there was any form of chemistry between Belle and Beast, but there isn’t a shred of it.
I could go on much longer but this review would never end if I did. I know what some will think: it’s a different film and shouldn’t be compared to the original. Normally I would say so too, but this film is adamant of reminding us about the much better film. It’s shot for shot at some points, it’s just insulting. The songs that I love are butchered, the characters sucked dry and the passion is replaced by product. And that there is the worst crime of all. The original is such a passionate film, dripping with imagination and wonder. This abomination is the most cynical product I have seen in a long time. Technically films like Assassin’s Creed, Underworld Blood Wars and The Great Wall are worse films, but none of them came even close to angering me as much as this did. And then it has the gault to be a success, not just with money but with critics and audiences. How? Why? I will never know. Although, I will give it this much credit; it has made me appreciate the 1991 animated film more than I have ever done before. If it isn’t baroque, don’t fix it.
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