Tail as old as Kline.
With the Disney marketing machine in full swing, its hard to separate the hype from the movie reality in this latest live-action remake of one of their classic animated features from 1991. If you are lucky enough to have children you will know that each child tends to have “their” Disney feature: for my second daughter (then 4) that film would be “Beauty and the Beast”. With a VHS video tape worn down to the substrate, this is a film I know every line of dialogue to (“I’m especially good at expectorating”). So seeing this movie was always going to be a wander down Nostalgia Avenue and a left turn into Emotion Crescent, regardless of how good a film it was. And so it proved.
Taking no chances with a beloved formula, most of the film is an almost exact frame-for-frame recreation of the original, with the odd diversion which, in the main, is to slot in new songs by original composer Alan Menken with Tim Rice lyrics. For, unlike “La La Land” this is a proper musical lover’s musical with songs dropping in regularly throughout the running time.
Which brings us to Emma Watson’s Belle. I’ve seen review comments that she ‘dials it in’ with a humourless and souless portrayal of the iconic bookworm. I can’t fathom what film those people were watching! I found Watson to be utterly mesmerising, confident and delightful with a fine (though possibly auto-tuned) singing voice. Her ‘Sound of Music’ moment (you’ll know the one) brought tears to my eyes. There are moments when her acting is highly reminiscent of Hermione Grainger, but this is about as crass a criticism as saying that Harrison Ford has done his “Knock it Off” snarl again.
I even felt that the somewhat dodgy bestiality/Stockholm-syndrome thing, inherent in the plot, was deftly handled by her. Curiously (and I feel guilty for even thinking this) the only part I felt slightly icky about was the age difference evident in the final kiss between Watson (now 27) and the transformed beast (sorry if this is a TERRIBLE spoiler for you!) played by Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”): even though with Stevens being only 35 this is only 8 years! I think the problem here is that it is still difficult for me to decouple the modern feminist woman that is Watson from the picture of the young Hermione as a schoolgirl in her first term at Hogwarts. (I know this is terrible typecasting, and definitely my bad, but that’s the way it is).
Stevens himself is fine as the cursed prince, albeit that most of his scenes are behind the CGI-created wet-rug that is the beast. Similarly, most of the supporting stars (Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts and an almost unrecognisable Stanley Tucci as the maestro Cadenza) are similarly confined to voice parts for the majority of the film. Kevin Kline is great as the supremely huggable Maurice. But the performances that really shine though are those of Luke Evans (“The Girl on the Train“) as the odiously boorish Gaston and Josh Gad (Olaf in “Frozen”) as his hilariously adoring sidekick LeFou. Much has been made of the gay Disney angle to this element of the story, most of which is arrant homophobic nonsense since the scenes are pretty innocuous. In fact the most adventurous ‘non-heterosexual’ aspect of the film, and a scene that raises by far the biggest laugh, relates to a completely different character.
Most of the songs delivered in the film are OK without, in my view, surpassing the versions in the original. Only Dan Steven’s dramatic new song “Evermore”- as one of the few really new ‘full-length’ songs in the film – has ‘Oscar nomination’ written all over it. However, the film eschews the ‘live-filming’ approach to song production featured in recent musicals like “La La Land” and “Les Miserables”, with some degree of lip-sync evident. Whilst I understand that ‘imperfection’ is not a “Disney thing”, I found that lack of risk-taking a bit of a disappointment.
The makers of the original “Beauty and the Beast” would I’m sure have been bowled over by the quality of the special effects on show here. However, that was in 1991 and it is now 2017, when “The Jungle Book” has set the bar for CGI effects. By today’s standards, the special effects here are mediocre at best. I wondered at first if some of the dodgy green-screen work was delivered that way to make it seem more “cartoony”, but I doubt that – – why bother? More irritatingly, the animated chattels in the castle, especially the candlestick Lumière, are seriously unconvincing. Mrs Potts, the teapot, and her son Chip, the cup, are rendered as flat and two-dimensional. There should have been no shortage of money to thrown at the effects with a reported budget of $160 million. Where has the Disney magic gone?
The film also seems to be rendered primarily for a 3D showing (I saw it in 2D). I say this because some of the panning shots (notably one around the library) to me just ended up as an unimpressive blur of mediocrity. Most odd.
The director is Bill Condon responsible for the modestly well-respected but low-key “Dreamgirls” and “Mr Holmes” but also the much derided “Breaking Dawn” end to the “Twilight” series. As such this seems to have been quite a risk that Disney took with such a high profile property, and I would have been intrigued to see what a more innovative director like Chazelle or Iñárritu would have done with it.
However, despite my reservations it is bound to be a MONSTER hit in every sense of the word, and kids aged 5 to 10 will, I predict, absolutely adore it (be warned that kids under 5 may be seriously scared by some of the darker scenes, especially the two wolf-attacks). For a younger age group, I would rate it as an easy FFFFF. As an adult viewer, given that I have viewed it through the rosy tint of my nostalgia-glasses (unfortunately you cannot hire these at the cinema if you haven’t brought your own!), this was an enjoyable watch. Despite my (more than expected!) slew of criticisms above my rating is still….
Fad Rating: FFFF.