Length: 129 mins
Writer: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay)
Dir.: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ian McKellen, Josh Gad
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly excited to watch this movie. I’m not that big on musicals generally and, while I have seen a frankly worrying amount of what I’ll call the ‘classic’ Disney films, I think it’s fair to say that the majority of their back catalogue isn’t really aimed at my demographic. That being said, I did have something of a professional (shut up, I am) interest in the flick, but this is mostly down to context.
In its ongoing attempt to acquire all the money in the world, Disney has taken to remaking their old classics and giving them the ‘live-action’ treatment – to varying degrees of success. While this isn’t exactly a new idea – you may remember 1996’s live action 101 Dalmatians for instance – the company is pursuing this agenda with renewed vigour recently, optioning many of their old titles for reboots. We’ve already had an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty with the faux-epic Maleficent in 2014; and just last year we had a retelling of The Jungle Book, which, if nothing else, stretched the term ‘live-action’ to its breaking point. There are plans in the works for more in the future too – including Mulan, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin (never going to top Robin Williams as the genie, mind). Given that Disney’s first two attempts at reboots were met with mixed reactions, how well does Beauty and the Beast stack up? ‘Surprisingly well,’ is the answer to that rhetorical question.
Yes, it turns out it’s quite hard to be down on a movie when everyone in it looks like they are having a lot of fun – and that’s certainly the case here. There’s a palpable enthusiasm running throughout the film that is infectious – and while it didn’t have me singing along – it was surprisingly engaging. Coupled with the undeniably impressive visuals – both in terms of CGI and practical elements like sets and costumes – this makes for an infinitely watchable movie. Acting-wise, everyone does well – particularly Luke Evans as the definitely-not-gay Gaston, and, of course, Emma Watson as Belle. Ian McKellen is surprisingly underused as Cogsworth – who I vaguely remember having a bigger part in the original – but it wasn’t a deal breaker. The singing was fine, in spite of the frankly dangerous volume the cinema I was in played the movie at, but there was no real stand out performances in terms of vocals – not that it mattered.
Hang on a minute… Cogsworth the clock? Lumiere the candlestick? Madame Garderobe the fucking wardrobe?! That one’s not even subtle! These people were humans first, remember? You mean to tell me that they were named after the things they changed into before they changed into them?! That’s appallingly lazy writing!
Ahem… excuse me. Where was I? Oh yeah. Disney wants to turn your kids gay.
Now, while that obviously isn’t true, it is an apparently genuine fear held by people who refer to themselves as adults. Essentially, the ‘controversy’ was a knee-jerk reaction to director Bill Condon mentioning that the film contained the first “exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie” in an interview with Attitude. This had a knock-on effect for the movie’s international release – with some countries considering to ban the film for perceived ‘gay propaganda’. A Russian MP (surprise surprise) called for a ban on the movie, and Malaysian film censors were reportedly considering screening a cut version of the film. Both have since backed down (although Russia did insist on a higher age certificate), but the amount of fuss that has been made is mind-boggling. Especially considering the ‘gay moments’, such as they are, aren’t controversial in the slightest and play a very minor role in a movie that is fundamentally about a woman falling in love with an animal. Essentially, the character LeFou (played by Josh Gad, who gleefully chews the scenery throughout) has a crush on Gaston and a bloke wears a dress for five seconds in the third act. That’s it. Hardly the stuff of conservative nightmares.
Oddly enough, the chief strength of the movie also happens to be its biggest weakness – namely that it is essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the original 1991 film. In a way, this makes Beauty and the Beast the best of the recent live-action Disney adaptations – arguably, where both Maleficent and The Jungle Book went wrong was in their deviation for the movies on which they were based. In the case of the former, we were being shown the ‘untold story’ that no one asked for or wanted. In the case of the latter, the film went out of its way to stick with the original source material (i.e. Rudyard Kipling’s book) over adapting the cartoon version but kept the nostalgic songs that everyone wanted to hear – attempting to have its cake and eat it too. Here, though, nearly every scene from the original is present, and the film rarely goes off script. There are some token attempts at elaboration – the narrative makes mention of the Prince’s parents at one point, and takes an odd detour to explain where Belle’s mother is – but none of it gets in the way of the original story. And that’s kind of the problem.
Being a good shot-for-shot remake doesn’t excuse the movie from being a shot-for-shot remake, if you see what I mean. With no meaningful elaboration on the original films (which you can still watch, remember), why are Disney making these adaptations at all? I don’t doubt the evident passion of the people involved in making this movie – it seems clear to me that everyone concerned believed deeply in what they were making – but there is something uncomfortably cynical about all of this that I just can’t get away from.
At the end of the day, Beauty and the Beast is a surprisingly fun movie that looks great, sounds great, and will most likely blow the minds of kids and hardcore Disney fans alike. That being said, it’s probably pure evil.
See. Professional as fuck.