I won’t say that I was predisposed to hate this film from the moment it was announced but I was always incredibly sceptical about it. The original animated version of the story is my favourite Disney film, one of my all-time favourite animated films, and, quite probably, one of my all-time favourite films… ever. It is superbly animated, well voiced, and pretty much perfect in every way. I love it… even with its questionable view of a woman’s role and the dodgy central relationship. As long as the pictures are so pretty I can work with it. So, it was always going to be a tough sell when it was being remade starring one of my least favourite actors ever. No offence to Emma Watson, who is a fantastic, intelligent and brilliant woman, but I just don’t think her acting has ever been anything to get excited about. So to have her taking the role of the Disney Princess that I idnetify most with kind of pissed me off. Especially when the audio of her ‘singing’ was finally released. Not the finest actor and in need of autotune to get through the songs? Who decided she should play Belle again? Anyway, I needed to see this film before I decided whether I disliked this film or absolutely detested it. So I did.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t hate this film as much as I thought I would. I mean, I can’t say with any honesty that I loved it but there were parts of it that I thought were really well done. By the end I couldn’t help but get caught up in the story and wept with as much joy as I would have with the original. However, that could have something to do with the fact that this film is basically the same as the original animation. Remember that shot-for-shot remake of Psycho starring Vince Vaughn? Remember how necessary and wonderful everyone thought it was? No. Well, Disney clearly decided that it was a workable concept and did exactly that with Beauty and the Beast.
Which I guess would have been easier to take had it not been for the amount of hype that had been built up about it being an updated and modernised retelling. From director Bill Condon rabbiting in about LeFou’s “gay moment” or Emma Watson promising we’d have an empowered and feminist Belle, the stage was being set for an incredibly forward-thinking release from Disney. It all sounded too good to be true… and it turned out that it was. That “gay moment” that caused such a stir? Turned out that was a couple of blink and you’ll miss ’em moments where LaFou acted a little bit camper than normal. His sexuality was never explicit and it was definitely not a defining moment in Disney’s history. This wasn’t something worth shouting about. It was positive, maybe, but it needed to be more obvious to count.
Then there’s the whole feminist thing. Emma Watson didn’t turn Belle into a feminist; she’s always been one. The original film showed Belle pushing out against what was expected of a woman in her town and wanting knowledge and freedom. She stood up to the Beast and saved her father. The only real addition this time is that she makes her own version of a washing machine. Emma Watson celebrated the fact that Belle was an inventor herself this time but we really see little evidence of this. She does one thing and it’s actually a bit of a dick move on her part. She puts her machine into use and effectively stops anyone else doing their washing in the shared fountain. There could have been a much more empowered ending to this film where Belle, who sang of wanting adventure, didn’t just settle into marriage with a man who had locked her up only a short time before. There has been no attempt to add anything to Belle’s character in the slightest and, if you ask me, the change from animation to real-life has only made Belle seem like more of a brat.
It’s something I never thought when watching the original film but Belle is kind of a bitch. I mean she openly sings about her “provincial town” and the “little people”, which in this situation comes across as being massively negative, Yes, the townsfolk don’t seem to want to befriend Belle but she doesn’t really give them any reason to. She despises them and the lives they lead, It’s horrible. And I think a lot of that has to do with Emma Watson’s acting style. She doesn’t come in all bolshy and brash. She’s polite, kind and well-spoken. It’s not her difference that causes people to turn away from her but her attitude towards others. She talks about the Beast being “mean and course and unrefined”, well up until that point so was she. It’s stays so faithful to the original that it highlights flaws that we never saw in the first place.
The film is most unsure when it is recreating well-known moments. The scenes featuring the songs from the previous film all seem a bit awkward and kind of like those fan-made remakes you see on YouTube. Nobody seems quite comfortable, least of all Emma Watson, and it all feels a bit too uncanny. The songs focusing around real-people are clumsy and don’t flow as well on screen. There is too much going on and the direction seems to work against it. Then the big CGI filled ‘Be Our Guest’ was just an over-the-top extravaganza of computer imagery. It tries so hard to recreate the original whilst also proving that technology has moved on. It’s just a bit of mess if you ask me.
However, the quieter moments and the original songs are all well managed. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for a few days to get used to it and have skipped the original songs every time. However, when watching I found that, whilst not as memorable, the new songs are all lovely and well realised on screen. There are moments between Belle and the Beast and the inhabitants of the castle that are really lovely. In fact, Dan Stevens proved to be the best cast of the lot. He gets a bit more background for his character and attempts to give him some depth. The new Beast is something of an improvement on the old one and Stevens’s voice is much better than I’d thought.
The rest of the cast all do admirable jobs but it’s tough for them. Emma Thompson sounds like she could be a fine singer if she wasn’t also attempting to sound like a Cockney. It is something that Angela Lansbury managed effortlessly in the original but causes Thompson to spend most of her time “sing talking” instead of actually singing. The only word I know to describe it is the delightful German word “Sprechgesang”. Ewan McGregor, who we know is a great singer, also suffers due to his sketchy French accent. Luke Evans is a remarkable singer but fails to get to the funny side of Gaston and, instead, focuses solely on making him menacing. The original film was so great at mocking his masculinity to make him see even more pathetic. Here, he’s just a one-dimensional villain.
Of course, the worst offender of all is still Emma Watson who, as lovely as she may be in real life, just shouldn’t have played Belle. She’s too timid and doesn’t give the character enough stage presence. Yes, she has the beauty down and she loves books but very little else stands out about her interpretation. It’s Hermione Granger but less of a badass. Then there’s the singing. It’s not that she’s a terrible singer by any means but that Disney have decided to autotune the fuck out of her vocals. She’s not got the strongest voice (especially in a cast featuring the likes of Audra McDonald – who is criminally underused by the way) but it’s a sweet and delicate on that would have been more than up for the task. But that wasn’t good enough. So now it just sounds shit and it’s not her fault. They wanted a big name, I get that, but if they wanted a perfect singer too then Emma Watson wasn’t the girl for them.
I know it sounds like I hate this film but I didn’t. The problem was most of the things I loved about it were bits that were copied from the original so it doesn’t really count. The fact is, there wasn’t enough fresh and new about this remake. It is almost a shot-for-shot reshoot with real characters and CGI. There are actors, like Kevin Kline, who are never used to their potential whilst background characters are over-the-top and distract from scenes. The set-pieces are too brash and confusing in an obvious game of one-upmanship. However, it’s the same old love story and you can’t help but fall in love with it. It’s like the US version of The Office. When it’s trying to be the original it’s awful but, if you can get passed that, it turns into something quite lovely. When Beauty and the Beast is less concerned with the original animation it is truly beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s just a shame it couldn’t have made it’s bid for freedom earlier.