If you ever need an example of what it means to gild a lily, look no further than the Beauty and the Beast remake that’s out in theaters this week. The live action adaptation of the 1991 Best Picture nominated film is another in Disney’s quest to
make money find new audiences with their IP. What we get is an averagely sung, overly designed rehash of the previous film.
It might seem weird for a movie with talking furniture, but Beauty and the Beast is a movie that could have used a bit of restraint. Yes, this is based on an animated tale, but just because you are given a massive budget, you don’t have to be overly opulent. Bill Condon is a good director, but he seems lost here, giving us dizzying camerawork and when it’s not making you damn near sick, pointing it at overly designed or poorly designed objects. I was never able to suspend my disbelief regarding the Beast, the effects on that character were so poor that in singular close ups I was trying to convince myself that he might not have looked that bad. Their quest to make everything so grand and live action-y hinders the musical’s best known numbers, “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Design issues aside, one of the challenges the film has is that in 2017, the central “love story” just does not work. This isn’t to say that Beauty and the Beast doesn’t do its darnedest to sell it, and for the first 45 minutes of the film I thought they had done enough that I might be able to look past this just being “Stockholm Syndrome: The Movie,” but then the movie doubles down on needing these characters to fall in love, rather than working towards it. If you remember the original film, their relationship starts for the flimsiest of reasons and you’re never given much more reason to care for them aside from knowing you’re supposed to care for them. Much of this is due to Belle being his prisoner (something the movie should have called out more) and the other being the acting. I just don’t think there was enough there between Emma Watson and the horribly CGI’d Dan Stevens to really push that they were falling in love that wasn’t reliant on the nostalgia of the original film. The movie tries to make up for this by introducing more backstory, that’s both extended and unnecessary (Belle) or curt and unnecessary (Beast). Beast’s backstory, in particular, did nothing to endear him to me and I’m bout tired of art trying to make excuses for why we should root for terrible people to be in relationships simply because their parents treated them poorly. This does not excuse their current actions.
Additionally, the new songs added to the picture are a completely mixed bag. “Days in the Sun” is a beautiful song and moment (made me wish Audra McDonald was playing Belle because her voice is just magnificent). However, the other two are not great. “Evermore” is particularly awful, coming at a point in the film where the movie finally allowed something to breathe, undercutting that hard earned peace and throwing Dan Stevens’ mediocre voice at us. I say this next as someone who is a humongous fans of musicals, but when the Beast started singing, in that moment I understood why people don’t like musicals; it was so over the top and unnecessary. This production would have been much better served using “If I Can’t Love Her” from the stage show or nothing at all. It was too bad, because when Belle inevitably has to go back to town and save her father, the movie comes into sharp focus, allowing for us to see the Beast’s necessary growth and pain at perhaps dooming himself to the curse.
It’s not all poor, though. Luke Evans (Gaston) and Josh Gad (Le Fou) are the clear standouts in the ensemble. The much publicized character change to Le Fou amounts to little, but does provide more fun to his interactions if you know what the change is. Just don’t expect much from the ending. Evans is the true surprise here. I railed on his casting very recently and was glad to be in the wrong as his self absorbed take on Gatson and lovely singing voice provide the movie with some gusto. Too bad the rest of the proceedings are threatening to drown each other out.