Yes, that was my attempt at making a musical pun. Well, it sounded right in my head. So, I want to put this fact into perspective that after exiting the hall, I didn’t like this Belle. Why? Because Belle gets rid of Gaston, breaks the curse of the Beast, finds out that the Beast isn’t just beautiful from the inside but from the outside too, is going to be Princess soon and while dancing with him, she tells him to grow a beard! Really!? The man has been a hairy beast for approximately 10 years and he’s getting to see his face for the first time after this period and you want him to cover it up? Let him catch a break, woman!
As it is a remake and not a re-imagining, this 2017 edition of the Beauty and the Beast follows the story of the original, where a selfish Prince is turned into a Beast when he rejects a rose offered by a seemingly haggardly lady, who turns out to be an Enchantress. She curses the Prince to be the Beast until he understands the meaning of inner beauty and thus finds true love. She goes a step further by cursing the land and putting a spell on that rose, saying that if the last petal of that rose falls then he will be a Beast forever. The remake tweaks the plot by a bit, so I think a spoiler warning is necessary.
WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead!
As Hollywood, and Disney to be specific, is on a roll for making remakes and reboots of properties from the 80’s and the 90’s, I think I should ask the most fundamental question:
Why and when should a remake be done?
Being a movie-goer of the 21st Century and also growing up watching the originals, it’s a great time to see my childhood adaptations and movies getting remade with today’s technology and expertise. Now, my idea of why a remake should be made might be a bit different but, hear me out. I think a remake should be made if it improves upon the original with today’s acting, camera-work and technological advancements. If the original is a classic then it should be left untouched. While having a civil conversation on the internet(something that is rather rare nowadays), somebody mentioned that a remake is another way of presenting the classic to the new generation. That statement actually improves upon my idea. Nowadays, we have better writers, talented actors, visionary directors and amazing CGI and that aspect should be incorporated into the movie before ushering in the present generation and also taking the older generation into a nostalgia-filled trip. The present generation is pretty used to high quality graphics and visuals, so that should also be kept in mind. That said, the movie looks like a shot-by-shot remake of the original and showcases very little aspects of today’s improved technicalities. So, let me list the ups and downs of this remake of the tale as old as time.
THE RIGHT NOTES –
1. Back-stories – The first change that I noticed in this remake is the removal of the song “Human Again”. That song is replaced with a, slightly auto-tuned, but meaningful song called “Days in the Sun”. The sequence for that song shows the unfortunate death of the Beast’s mother and instead of just narrating the fact that the Prince was selfish in nature, Mrs. Potts also adds in that the reason for his selfishness was his cruel father. It also fleshes out Belle’s mother’s backstory but opens a new can of worms while doing so. Still, at least it was a step towards making the characters feel more real.
2. The non-human objects and their voice-acting – The casting of Ian Mckellen as Cogsworth and Ewan “Obi Wan Kenobi” McGregor as Lumiere was spot on. I actually loved his French accent since I saw an interview of him, explaining how he had initially screwed it up. Other than these two, all the others playing the non-human objects of the castle were pretty reminiscent of the original voice-actors and maybe even a tinge better. As this is a live remake the objects looked very well realised and had very interesting details. Also, they retained the little crack on Chip.
3. The 3D – I’ve been to so many 3D movies where the effect has either been tacked on just to charge an extra buck, or the effect isn’t good enough. Honestly, I was a little sceptical about how the 3D will be in this movie, but I was impressed. It made me flinch more than once and the constant snow-fall also looked very real.
4. “Be Our Guest” – The sequence for the song of Be Our Guest was beautiful. Even though it borrowed a few elements from the original, but the combination of the 3D along with the intricate movements going on in the background made it an amazing spectacle. Plus, Ewan McGregor’s singing was pretty good too. I have been listening to it on a loop.
5. Josh Gad as LeFou – Say whatever you want about the controversy, but Josh Gad really nailed it as LeFou. He became the character and his performance along-with his singing made it a more memorable character than the original did.
THE “OFF-TUNE” PARTS –
1. The casting – This has to be my biggest grievance of the remake. Apart from the actors I have mentioned above, everyone was miscast in their respective roles. Emma Watson as Belle was a complete failure and somehow made Belle to be a boring drag rather than the mix of odd, intelligent and beautiful that the original gave us. All she did is either bring her eyebrows together or purse her lips. Her eyes didn’t express anything while her accent seemed way too posh for a village girl. If you have seen the original, you can see how expressive Belle’s animation was. She used her hands, her feet, her skirt, her eyes, everything to emote as much as she could. During the opening scene[in the original] she puts the book literally up to her nose, which shows how absent-minded she becomes when she reads books. Here, Watson just carries it in her hand with a smug look on her face as if the town-folk is beneath her.
The supremely talented, Dan Stevens was made to hide behind all that CGI whereas he would have nailed it as Gaston. Also, as the CGI was so off, I couldn’t buy in to the fact that that is a real beast. It didn’t have any beast-like qualities to begin with and Dan’s auto-tuned Beast voice was also very off-putting. The first few moments of him as the selfish and snob Prince was a better representation of Gaston than Luke Evans’ entire performance. That brings me to Luke Evans’ Gaston. He isn’t a very expressive actor and he is good at playing characters who do not emote too much. This is a character where the actor has to do an over-the-top impression. After seeing Dan Stevens’ theatrics in Legion, I am convinced that he would have killed it as Gaston.
2. The changes in the plot – The only innovative thing that the writers for the remake could conjure up was re-arranging the events and hamming in some plots which were subtle in the original. Like, I mentioned above, the movie tries to flesh out Belle and the Beast’s back-stories. The reason why they did so is beyond me, but the fact that it was a half-arsed attempt is pretty evident. In the original we did not know what happened to the Prince’s parents and we could have been left to our imaginations that they might have died of old age or after the Prince became the Beast, he killed them during one of his fits of rage. The remake removes all sense of subtlety and gives this elaborate explanation of his mother’s death and then forgets to explain what happened to the Father. In a similar way, the movie begins to explain Belle’s mother and then forgets about the fact that if they are immigrants from Paris, then why don’t they have French accents or anything that resembles their French roots?
In the original, Belle’s father was an inventor. That did three things to the story: a) it explained why Belle was fond of studying, b) like every other inventor, it explained Belle’s father’s mental status and why everyone was sceptical about it and c) his invention actually does something of use. In the remake, he is turned into a man who makes intricate house decorations and that is utilised later to explain him picking the lock?! That is just preposterous.
[SPOILER ALERT] The introduction and re-introduction of the hag being the enchantress also robs the movie off it’s subtlety. It was explained in the opening narration that the movie is going to be about finding someone’s inner beauty. Repeated jabs at the hag’s appearance didn’t work at all and the movie made it all the more obvious that the hag is someone of importance, thus reducing the awe of the “twist”[SPOILER ALERT]
I read an article where it was mentioned that Gaston is crueler in this rendition. How? By actually trying to kill Belle’s father. The movie just repeatedly removes all sense of subtlety by making everything feel more obvious. The original has a scene where Gaston actually bribes the owner of a mental asylum who in turn furthers the scepticism about Belle’s father’s sanity. By doing so he wants to use that as leverage in order to marry Belle. Here, the movie completely waters down the marriage angle by several notches. The original even had Gaston disrespecting Belle and her books. How can you remove all that for a straight up “attempt to murder” plot? His attempt to kill the Beast would have been his moment of turning evil. By showing that he has already tried to kill before and that he calms himself down by thinking about dead-bodies, blood and widows, kills all sense of nuance in the writing and acting department.
3. Lacks any real fun – Talking about stuff that was watered down, the movie isn’t fun to watch. It lacks the colour and the fun of the original. The original managed to turn everything into a gag because it was actually meant to be for kids. Here the problem is either the performances or the direction or the acting, but everything looks and feels so drab and boring. Nobody exudes excitement or love or awe or fun. Now as the characters aren’t having fun, the audience wasn’t having fun with them. The only few times that the audience burst out laughing in my theatre was: a) when Gaston is admiring himself in the mirror and b) when Ian McKellen pleads to turn back into a clock. That’s it.
The movie also lacked a sense of awe. Even though the 3D was amazing, everything felt so scaled down. As we are moving on to better and better visual techniques, the directors and animators should always looks for means to amaze the audience instead of operating in their safe-space.
4. Brings nothing new to the table – The Beast in the original looked so menacing and instilled a sense of fear and also had some animal like qualities. Like when he licks his wounds or furiously walks back and forth like a tiger. Here he is just another CGI character.
There is little, or no, innovative camera-work during the action-filled sequences. They just kept a few cameras here and there and shot entire action scenes. Therefore, those scenes had no sense of tension. Heck, when Belle goes to the West Wing she just touches the glass and the Beast appears without any dramatic effect. In the original, she removed the glass encasing and touched the rose and there was some dramatic editing to make the Beast’s entry and initial reaction effective. I was also amazed as to how boring the Ballroom dance sequence was in comparison to the original. In the original, the Beast was learning to be dance and was expressing so many emotions. In the remake there is no learning curve. He knows how to read and dance. What’s the point? Remain a Beast forever because you don’t need to learn anything from a human.
The movie rushes the ending of the movie, the same way as the original did instead of putting more gags and set-pieces. So again, no innovation. The remake manages to reduce the chemistry between the two by reducing the number of interactions between Belle and the Beast. The remake also manages to have the people at the castle to be related to the town-folk who came to attack the castle. It creates a loophole that they knew where their family worked(castle) and didn’t do anything about it and are all of a sudden pleased to meet them? Didn’t they know about where they worked all their life? If so, after their disappearance they didn’t come to find out why they’re missing for almost 10-15 years? Also, if they did know, why were they surprised at the idea of the existence of the castle and the Beast? In the original, after entering the Castle the town-folk does mention that the castle looks familiar. That’s it. That said, the original doesn’t explain the theory about Chip’s brothers. Were they all working there or were they just co-workers or roommates? Now, that should have been explained in the remake!
The movie tries to do something new by adding a Port-key device which lets you travel anywhere, but that digs a huge plot-hole bigger than any of the ones I have mentioned. It deviates from the whole meaning of the story of isolation by making the Beast move anywhere he wants with the help of a book! The idea of giving him the mirror was to make him confined to the boundary of the castle and just getting a glimpse of the outside world. I guess it was used in order to introduce the thing about Belle being from Paris and Belle’s mother’s death but now you see, movie? How you dug your own grave without thinking everything through?
5. Changes to LeFou – Before beginning this topic I want to say, I really didn’t dig the fact that the people at the castle all of a sudden accepted everyone who had come to destroy the castle. Gaston died so he was excluded, but the rest of them are worthy of being sent away to prison for assisting the arrest of Belle and his father under false accusations. To continue with that air of sugar-coating, LeFou is turned into a nice guy in this so that the movie can shoe-horn in the fact that he is gay. The original was suggestive enough about LeFou’s feelings for Gaston. It didn’t require any reassurance, but to hell with subtlety. The remake takes another step by including a scene where one of the henchmen is dressed as a woman and he actually appreciates it. Fine! There I was thinking “You have asked the question that what is 2+2, now let the audience answer”. Just when I thought that, LeFou was shown dancing with the gay henchman. Was it necessary? No. Did the kids understand? No. The thing that the remake did by putting that last scene was that it turned the notion of being gay into a joke again. Everybody was pointing and laughing at the way the henchman expressed himself when he was dressed as a woman and they further burst out laughing when he went on to dance with LeFou. So, bravo Bill Condon. Bravo!
MY SUGGESTIONS –
For starters I would have made a slight re-cast which would have completely changed the feeling of the movie. I would have cast Dan Stevens as Gaston and Luke Evans as the Beast. At least it would hide Luke Evans’ inability to express. If there would have been a bigger budget, I would have cast Jake Gyllenhaal as the Beast because he is an amazing actor and an amazing singer. If you have any doubt, don’t worry. I have proof:
I’d have completely bid goodbye to the great Emma Watson. Instead, I’d have cast Saoirse Ronan. I have no doubt about her acting skills. She would have sold the village-girl part. I am not sure about her singing capabilities but if you can auto-tune Emma Watson, you can auto-tune anyone. Basically, she is a much convincing Belle even on her worst day.
I’d have retained the colour palette of the original because it is ultimately a kid’s movie and it should look and feel vibrant at the end of the day, instead of a PG-8 Game of Thrones episode.
The scene in which Belle’s father enters the castle could have been like a horror movie with him hearing the voices coming out of nowhere. Instead, Cogsworth and Lumiere was shown to the audience before the character does. That decreases the horror and the surprise the audience feels, in comparison to what the character feels.
The intro to the prince could have been stretched in order to make us feel how selfish the prince was so that we could understand how he is transforming into the good guy, instead of an expository scene where Mrs. Potts explains his whole backstory. The original didn’t wish to explain it because they wanted us, the audience, to imagine it. Don’t try to be over-smart, movie. And if you’re absolutely hell-bent on doing so, then don’t be so blunt about it.
The chase scene of Belle’s father should have been shot more competently to make us feel the tension by using shaky-cam and using a better sense of direction of where they are going. Instead they used steady cams and CGI’d wolves which loosened the tension of the scene and made the wolves look like dough. The problem with doing live adaptations with CG characters is if the CG isn’t really good then the mind begins to relate the movie with reality.
I’d have extended the scene where the village folk makes their way to the castle. It could have had little gags and laughs through the banter between the village folk about what they’re going to do once they get to the castle. It also could have been a great transition period for LeFou, showing some final signs of turning against Gaston. Also, it could have served as a great sequence showcasing Gaston’s insecurities.
EXTRA POINTS –
Even with all it’s flaws, the movie did manage to make a little girl, sitting behind me in the theatre, cry at the happy ending of the movie. She sat through the credits while wiping away her tears of joy for witnessing the glorious union of Belle and the Prince. So, I’ll give one extra point to the movie for remaking this for the present generation. You see, I am not a heartless bastard.
I enjoyed only a few moments of this movie and I was actually furious at the remake’s lack of subtlety. I would have given it a pass if Dan Stevens wasn’t in it.
I’ll keep my final verdict two-fold. If you are among those who have watched the original and have grown up with it, then give this a pass. It’s a mindless, effortless cash-grab and nothing else, to be honest. If you have watched the original and have kids, then show them the original.
If you’re among them who has no idea about the original, and this is the first time you’re hearing about the movie. Go watch it, you’ll probably enjoy it. Then come back home, rent the DVD for the original and give it a watch. If you have kids and you haven’t watched the original, then go watch it and repeat what I mentioned earlier.
I am pretty sure no one from Disney will be reading this, but if they are, I have a last suggestion. If you’re making remakes then find things that can be done better or take up properties that has potential, or even didn’t have potential, and turn them into live-action movies. My personal suggestion will be Treasure Planet.
Thanks for reading.
Picture Courtesy: Imdb.com