Now that Disney have realised that live-action remakes of their animated classics are basically a sure-fire way to print money, they've thrown remakes of practically every major film they’ve ever made into production. The problem for this particular Disney fanatic is, apart from Kenneth Branagh’s unexpectedly lovely ‘Cinderella’ (2015), every single one so far has been dull, bloated and soulless. However, when it was announced that they were taking on their greatest film of all - the 1991 masterpiece ‘Beauty and the Beast’ - there was some hope. They’ve always acknowledged that this film is their crown jewel, so surely they were making sure to do it properly. Surely... hopefully... maybe...
All the basic elements of the original are there - Belle (Emma Watson) finds herself in the capture of a selfish and hideous Beast (Dan Stevens), a prince caught in a curse that has rendered him a monster and his household into enchanted domestic objects. His only hope of salvation is to demonstrate that he can love and be loved in return before the last petal on his treasured enchanted rose falls. However, screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky have expanded on both Belle and the Beast’s backstories in an attempt to fill out the erudite narrative of the original.
Everything about the talent involved and the time taken suggested that Disney were taking this one very seriously, but the resulting film suggests the complete opposite. For every excellent decision in this adaptation (and there are a handful), there are innumerable bad ones that make it not just a totally inadequate and pointless remake, but a bad film in its own right. Director Bill Condon may have skill directing small-scale dramas, but the ineptitude he showed as a director of musicals with ‘Dreamgirls’ (2006) is exemplified here. The film has no sense of consistent rhythm, its tone is messy and shallow, and his handling of the musical sequences is beyond inept. There isn’t an ounce of subtlety in his ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and if his painfully uninspired choices and verbose approach aren’t bad enough, it flies completely in the face of the extraordinary subtlety and maturity of the original.
SWITCH: 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST' TRAILER 2
This isn’t helped by the film’s gaudy and obnoxious look. It isn’t as grotesquely over-designed as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (2010) but it’s not far off. There’s so much visual detail in this film that it quickly starts to become overwhelming, and you can’t shake the feeling that the film is more concerned with dazzling you with spectacle than telling a good story. The enormity of its "Frenchness" becomes a never-ending distraction, its execution so verbose that it would make Marie Antoinette dizzy. Almost everything about the visual approach is flat and uninspired, and I walked out with no lasting images or impressions of its look or texture other than a headache.
But nothing comes close to the catastrophe that is the music. All of the singing (and I mean all of the singing) has been so badly auto-tuned that it sounds tinny and genuinely painful, robbing all the lyrical performances of any soul or humanity. Alan Menken has done the inconceivable and re-orchestrated possibly the greatest songs and score ever written for an animated film, making them as big and opulent as possible to the point where they are actually incoherent. All the songs are a rhythmic, tonal mess, and the new songs are so awful that you’ve forgotten about them almost as soon as they’ve begun. My heart dropped further and further with each song, culminating in a scene that typifies everything wrong with this film - the ballroom sequence. What was a cinematic icon is now a rhythmic, tonal, visual, aural and creative vacuum of nothingness, infuriating in its absolute banality.
What was a cinematic icon is now a rhythmic, tonal, visual, aural and creative vacuum of nothingness, infuriating in its absolute banality.
There are a few moments of hope though - Watson and Stevens are lovely when not singing, and have a gentle chemistry that works, especially coupled with some of the added material which ends up succeeding. Luke Evans is great as Gaston, clearly having a ball, and the animation for the enchanted objects is extraordinary. The problem isn’t the talent on screen, but how they and their characters are being treated.
And this brings us to LeFou. There has been a lot of talk about this being Disney’s first openly gay character, but LeFou is so underwritten and handled with such cowardice that even if you’re looking for it, you’ll barely see it. After going on so much about it in the press, it filled me with bile to see that this fact they are so self-congratulatory about - and which they believe earns them some kind of praise for queer representation on-screen - is basically a rehash of the "sissy" in a production code-era musical comedy. Then again, maybe they think we’re grateful for this outdated scrap they’re throwing us.
It’s impossible for me to really look at ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with objective eyes. The original is a film I have always cherished and adored. But even removing the personal, there’s still very little to admire in this soulless, obnoxious remake. Everything about its approach is lazy and ignorant, expecting its audience to overlook the fact the film has no soul at all and revel in all the nostalgic nods it throws at them. In a way, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is everything wrong with this recent obsession with nostalgia, an obsession they are determined to cash in on without putting in the effort. As a Disney fan, I am insulted that they expected this to be good enough. I’m insulted that they’ve taken a source material of real intelligence and treated it with token levels of respect. I’m insulted that they think a half-second moment is enough to earn kudos for queer representation. But worst of all, even with the gaudy design and terrible handling of the music and lack of genuine soul, the final film is just dull. I’d be more upset about it if it weren’t so thoroughly forgettable. It does not justify its extended running time or millions of dollars, or even its very existence. In the end, just like most of their live-action fairytales and remakes, this new ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is just bloated, loud, pointless and boring. They shouldn't have even bothered.