As everyone knows, I’m a sucker for musicals. On top of that, the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast is my favourite Disney animated film. So it would have been hard for Disney to mess up this live-action remake for me. Disney tried anyway, but I still enjoyed the film.
Disney went wrong very early. The introductory pre-Belle sequence is quite good, but then Emma Watson starts to sing. I was impressed with Watson’s performance, which removed the doubts I had had about the casting choice. But apparently Watson’s singing abilities are not up to Disney’s standards, because it saw fit to autotune her voice. This was a major disappointment for us. Either cast a singer for the role or go with what you have (e.g. Les Miserables, La La Land, both of which made my top two films of the year), but don’t use autotune. We worry about a future where actors and songs will be entirely computer-generated - a very scary thought.
Then there is the question of the need to make a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast at all. Or the question of whether Beauty and the Beast really is a live-action film. Almost all of the characters in the castle are CGI, with voices provided from a sound booth, just like in the animated version. So one could argue that this new Beauty and the Beast is half-animated. The CGI is outstanding, as one would expect from Disney, but there’s rather too much of it. And some of the castle’s CGI characters grated on me (e.g. Madame Garderobe). So the underlying cynical question of whether the new film is just a guaranteed way for the wealthiest studio in the world to make another mountain of money is a very real one for us.
The new Beauty and the Beast is a full 45 minutes longer than the original. For us, this is only justifiable with the addition of a lot more singing. There were some new songs, and we enjoyed all of them, but they don’t take up anywhere near enough time to justify that 45 minutes. It’s hard to sustain the magic of this story for 129 minutes and a number of scenes fall flat, making the film feel too long.
As for the redemptive violence at the end, well, given the original, we could hardly expect Disney not to kill off the baddie, this time in a manner that employs Disney’s typical ‘hand of God’, as seen in Disney’s first animated film (Snow White). But in a film that’s all about the redemption of a ‘baddie’, it shows such an incredible lack of imagination, not to mention a flawed moral compass, to insist on such an incongruously violent ending.
That all sounds pretty bad, but, like I said, I quite enjoyed the new Beauty and the Beast. Alan Menken’s music (songs and score) is superb throughout, with excellent lyrics written by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The acting is generally very good, with the likes of Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Kline joining Watson, who injects Belle with exactly the right amount of pluck and intelligence. Dan Stevens is good as the Beast and Luke Evans and Josh Gad are well-cast as Gaston and LeFou. The cinematography is outstanding, though too much of it was CGI. And Bill Condon’s direction is solid, if not as inspired as I might like. And then of course there’s the controversial scene concerning LeFou’s sexual orientation, which is hardly controversial for me.
The best things about this remake of Beauty and the Beast are the new songs and scenes that made me momentarily forget that I had seen this film many times before. There is still some magic here, literally in the case of the presence of Agathe, the Enchantress (Hattie Morahan). If only it could have been sustained a little longer (i.e. with more singing, as I suggested earlier).
In the end, what pushes Beauty and the Beast over the line to ***+ are the end-credits, among the best I’ve ever seen or listened to. My mug is up.