Bill Condon returns to blockbuster filmmaking with his take on a treasured Disney classic, pitting a gorgeous dame with a really hairy companion.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
If you’re going to remake a classic you have to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and with the best possible intentions, not because a bunch of pot-bellied studio execs have decided it’s the “in thing” to do. I blame Cinderella (2015) for this. Oh yes, that remake was a big success and I adored Lily James in the lead, but its triumph proved only one thing: that Disney has found a new creative source to plunder. Itself. Soon, a company that used to crack down on copyright infringement with the tenacity of Mufasa will have cloned every movie in its revered collection for no other reason than profit. Bravo.
This year they give us a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, one of the most loved classics to come out of the Disney Renaissance, and all I can really say about it is “Hmmm…”. No, it’s not terrible, but it’s not astounding either, and I feel it should have been. The original Beauty and the Beast was one of the first animated films to introduce digital illustrations; this new movie consists mostly of digital illustrations and boasts a Dan Stevens who falls into that all-too-familiar trap of spending the majority of the film concealed behind prosthetics and motion-capture accoutrements. Like Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse, the Beast is a stunning achievement in makeup and CGI but terribly vacant as an actor’s performance.
But then this Beauty and the Beast remake isn’t about performances or actors (though Emma Watson as Belle has rarely looked more angelic); it’s about doing what’s been done before, with more sophisticated technology and bigger egos. And about trying to be progressive by (pointlessly) turning a couple of characters gay. It also relies inordinately on our nostalgia for the original animated version. All the songs we’ve come to love are here, played out in vibrant and vigorous set pieces, and indeed they are where the film truly sparkles. Once the plot settles down and dialogue begins to spar with itself, everything simply feels like a recitation of the original. Scenes of drama act as little more than rickety bridges connecting one musical number to the next. There are new songs written and sung specifically for this remake, but they feel out of place and tend to spell out characters’ emotions instead of allowing the audience to ascertain them for itself.
Am I being pedantic? Possibly. It’s hard not to be when reviewing a movie that shouldn’t have existed. It’s no secret that I’ve grown immensely sceptical about the state of Hollywood, with its well of remakes, sequels, prequels, reboots and adaptations, and to know that Disney will be falling in line by converting a great many of its masterpieces doesn’t fill me with much joy.
Don’t get me wrong – for what it is, this Beauty and the Beast just about gets the job done. It is supremely passable and had the girl sitting next to me in buckets of tears. But when an expensive remake comes out and does nothing but make us pine for the original that inspired it, you’re not starting down a new and exciting path; you’re taking a few steps back and tripping over your own feet. Cinderella and The Jungle Book (2016) were happy exceptions. This one isn’t as happy.
Beauty and the Beast is available in Australian cinemas from March 23
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures