Well, here we are people, the moment has finally come for 26 years worth of nostalgia to flood back in to theatres and for the folks over at Disney to give yet another one of their beloved classics a modern re-imagination. Recent similar efforts have evoked mixed feelings for me, not liking 2015’s Cinderella but very much enjoying 2016’s The Jungle Book.
For a kid born in 1989, though, Beauty And The Beast is a whole different kind of monster (pun intended). Alongside Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, the 1991 original animation sits atop the podium reserved for pictures that formed my entire love of cinema, specifically Disney, and the thought of a live action remake struck fear and dread in to my very soul. Willing to give it a chance, however, would my 2017 experience echo that of Cinderella or that of The Jungle Book?I’m sorry to say that Beauty And The Beast very much falls in to my Cinderella pile. There is no point outlining the plot, every human being on earth knows it back to front, so I’ll just dive right in with my thoughts. As comparison piece to the original animation, this live action adaptation loses each battle it tries to forge.
The ability to build a world using animation makes for a much more expansive, escapist aesthetic, and this kind of world building is very much missing in the remake. Belle’s (Emma Waston) ‘small provincial town’ looks exactly like what it is, a sound stage in a warehouse somewhere in Hollywood. Things get slightly better when we get to the castle scenes, but this time the problem lies not in the look of the sets but in the look of the characters. Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson) and co. don’t possess half the charm of their 90s predecessors, with the focus on making the ornaments look as ‘authentic’ as possible limiting their opportunity for real expression.There appears throughout the film to be a preoccupation by the filmmakers to provide a backstory for all of the central characters with origin stories, connections to villagers and such, and in attempting to expand the story’s mythology, the film becomes really rather bloated.
From a tight 84 minutes in 1991 to a self indulgent 130 minutes in 2017, the picture loses most of the whirlwind fairytale magic that made it such an endearing and re-watchable adventure. A portion of this time is also taken up with the addition of some new musical numbers, none of which, I must admit, carry a torch to the, thankfully, shining moments in the film when the audience gets to hear the songs that made them fall in love with the production in the first place. Beast’s (Dan Stevens) added solo number, in particular, sounds like something that didn’t make the cut for Quasimodo in 1996’s The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.Something that can’t really be ignored about this remake is the fact that the added element of live action makes the, what is essentially, beastiality love story just that little but more creepy for the audience to watch unfold. Though it can’t be said that the Beast created in the film looks entirely ‘real’, seeing Emma Watson’s eyes go doughy over the kindness of a, well, minotaur, feels a little more icky in this instance than it does from the comfort of complete animation.I will admit to sneaking a few audio peeks at some of the soundtrack before seeing the film, and I was extremely apprehensive about the vocal capabilities of Emma Watson in the starring role. There is no doubt that her singing voice isn’t at powerhouse level, and there is definitely a degree of autotune that can be heard throughout, but what I was surprised by was how soon I got over the shortcomings and began to enjoy Watson’s characterisation. Through no fault of her own, Watson will always be seen as Hermione Granger no matter what she does, but her performance as Belle is actually one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film.