Thursday, March 23, 2017

Beauty & the Beast (2017) Review

A tale that feels as old as time.

I think I'm not exactly defying conventions when I say that the original Beauty & the Beast is one of the best animated films of all time. Regardless of whether or not you like it, it's often referred to being the best Disney movie from the 90's and was the first animated feature to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It's had a musical based on the movie and has a legion of incredibly devout fans that love the original for its magic, wonder, fantastic songs, and just great animation.

And watching the original again, it still stands up. It's a movie that gets better with age and looks even better the more I watch it. But here's the key point; I never grew up with the movie. Surprisingly I only watched it for the first time when I was a teenager who was doing the show in my high school. I don't have nostalgia for the movie. I don't fondly remember how it defined my childhood or the great feelings I've had whenever I watched it.

That's an important distinction to make because the remake of Beauty & the Beast is a tricky beast to review. For all intents and purposes, it's a direct adaptation of the original movie with some minor changes. I can fully look at this movie and say that it's a good movie and there's very little wrong with it from a story perspective, but it commits to two mortal sins that a remake should never do; it exposes the flaws of the original movie and it makes me wonder why I don't just watch the original movie anyway.

Like I said, it's complicated.

It's hard to decide on where to start just because there's nothing wrong with the movie on the surface. If you went inside expecting just a live action Beauty & the Beast, you'll get your wish to the letter. Personally, I was more interested in seeing what new additions they would put into the remake. Every live action Disney remake changes something from the original to differentiate itself from it. Cinderella explores her life before she stays with Lady Tremaine and shows her and the Prince having actually chemistry, The Jungle Book changed the entire third act to make it more in line with the novel it was based on, and Maleficent was crap. But Beauty & the Beast? The new "additions" feel like after thoughts at best and downright hurt the overall story at worst.

Take in point Lefou, Gaston's henchperson. The big controversy going into the movie was that Lefou was revealed to be gay and that caused outrage, but people were championing Disney for making one of its characters gay. Yeah, that's a great thing and all, I'm all for it, but let me ask you this: why does that matter? Who care if Lefou is gay or not? How does it impact the story? It doesn't at the end of the day. The story does not change except for Josh Gad making a quick remark or two and sharing a look with Gaston once or twice. His sexuality does not matter, and I cannot wait for the day when a character's sexuality is no longer headline making news.

Then you have the "new additions" to the story to flesh out the characters a tad. This mostly amounts to learning about Belle's mom and the Beast's dad and how both of them, again, have absolutely nothing to do with the main narrative. Belle's mom dies of plague and her dad kept it from her. Ummmm... cool? Why was this important again? Why did we need to dedicate a few scenes to this?

Then there's the fact that apparently Belle and the Beast's romance takes place over a week. Yes, the original had a vague time frame from when Belle saved the Beast from the wolves and when she left him that could have been anywhere between a few weeks to a few months, but it's ironed out in the remake that they fall in love, true love mind you, in a week. It actually weakens the love from the original when you time compress it to such an unrealistic time frame.

"But wait!" I hear the one good soul cry out before the mobs come to kill me, "None of that impacts the core meaning of the story! Those are just little quirks that are put in the remake, so why all of the hate?" And you're right, they are just tiny little quirks that don't impact the story at all. So why not just watch the original movie?

It's not a difficult question to answer. The remake has tiny elements that make it different in theory, but the execution isn't different at all from the original. Belle goes to rescue her father, she falls in love with the Beast, songs are sung, and they all live happily ever after. At least with the other Disney remakes there's something fundamentally different from the original to justify the rewatch, but there's nothing here. There's not even a section dedicated to addressing some of the criticisms of the original, like Belle's rumored Stockholm syndrome. It would have been great if we could have had that disproven here, but nope!

The cast of the remake, while being star studded, are just simply okay. Emma Watson is fine even though her autotune singing voice is like nails of a chalk board to me for how synthetic it sounds, Luke Evans is fine, the servants are fine, it's all fine. Personally I don't care that the cast has so many great and recognizable names to it because while I can't remember a single actor's name that was in the original Beauty & the Beast, I still think those are the better performances.

Am I blinded by nostalgia? No, I'm just being perfectly practical here. Nothing here made me care about the characters like I did in the original except that they had their names. I liked Lumiere because he was Lumiere, not because it was Lumiere played by Ewan McGregor. In fact I found it distracting how all of the characters were CGI. Lumiere had a fantastic and expressive design in the original film, but here it was mostly forgettable and barely expressive. The same could be said for the Beast, who just lumbered around like a Sasquatch and belted out some notes in a song that was soooooooooo forced in just to let Disney get a potential award season nod for Best Original Song.

However, I don't think this is a bad movie. Even if it's a poor execution, I know that the original material is still good. Maybe it was the director's fault, maybe it was Disney's fault for making sure no one tampered with their precious property, but if there was something, anything that significant altered the story and made it stand out as its own movie, then at least there would have been something of merit in here. The only thing of merit in the Beauty & the Beast remake is examining why it's not working as well as it could be.

I will fully acknowledge that this is a perfectly fine movie that some people may love, but it's just not the kind of remake for me. Some movies should stay as classics and never be touched, while some movies get remakes that suck and others get remakes that work. Beauty & the Beast exists. It is the perfect definition of alright. Okay. Serviceable. Decent. Operational. Functional. Could have been worse, could have been better.


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