BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Ever since the 1990s, Disney have been on a relentless program of remaking their classic films. We have had live-action remakes of animated films such as The Jungle Book (1994), 101 Dalmatians (1996) and Maleficent (2014), as well as remakes of live-action films such as That Darn Cat (1997), Flubber (1997), The Parent Trap (1998), Freaky Friday (2003), Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005), The Shaggy Dog (2006) and Race to Witch Mountain (2009). This was a fad that seemed to peter out with the commercial disappointment of Tron Legacy (2010). On the other hand, a few year later, further remakes of Cinderella (2015), which earned $200 million at the US box-office, and The Jungle Book (2016), which earned an enormous $360 million domestically, followed by a new version of Petes Dragon (2016) that trailed along with a not immodest $76 million, saw a sudden new sparking of interest. Beauty of the Beast topped all of these, earning nearly $500 million at the US box-office. As a result, Disney has announced a slew of remakes of other animated classics.
The new Beauty and the Beast has been mounted with an extraordinary lavishness. Every frame of the film is gorgeous to behold with stunning ice laden grounds of Gothic castles, artfully decaying and exquisitely detailed interiors lit in golden candlelight, balls with hundreds of dancers in attendance. Even the villagers in impoverished backwater Villeneuve have gowns and costuming that would not be amiss in a royal court.
On the other hand, I never fully warmed to the romantic film we are supposed to be watching. Emma Watson is coming into her own on the back of the Harry Potter films. Equally though, I find her plain in terms of looks and adequate as an actress but never anything that sets the screen alight either in terms of beauty or plaintive emotional appeal. I keep asking where in her performance is the radiance, loveliness and pure-heartedness that makes a Disney princess; all that we get seems like a fairly plain teenage girl in period costume. On the other side of the coin, Dan Stevens spends all his time replaced by a mocap Beast. Like the far superior Christophe Gans film Beauty and the Beast (2014), this is a Beast that suffers from Uncanny Valley you are less certain of a character being in front of you than you are seeing a CGI Beast and one where the expressions on its face seem less fearsome and noble than they do distinctly odd at times.
The other actors are all fine in their parts. There was the big kerfuffle about making Le Fou gay, which became a storm in the teacup about nothing. Most of the rest of the world has gotten perfectly used to seeing gay characters on screen and Disney seems still stuck back in the 1990s era the period when it was okay for Ellen DeGeneres to come out on Ellen (1994-8) only to thereafter have all mention of such excised and she spend the rest of the series in a state of chastity where we are supposed to consider it groundbreaking having Le Fou making a couple of flirtatious comments.
The one thing that the film does well is the talking plates, teapots and dressers. They serve no more purpose than the talking sidekick animals do in most regular Disney animated films but, voiced by an all-star cast line-up, they end up stealing the show out from the rather staid romance being put on around them by the humans. The visual effects team are in their element and some of the scenes the furnishings appear in shine especially one where they put on a dinner for Emma Watson. On the other hand, the scene where they repel the attack by the villagers by battering them with piano keys, flung saucers, pouring hot water on the attackers and the wardrobe dressing them in drag is very silly.
I liked Beauty and the Beast for the lavishness of the production. On the other hand, I liked other versions of the story (see below) better. Both the Jean Cocteau Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Christophe Gans Beauty and the Beast are much more visually adventurous films. This feels moribund by its necessity to have to also be a remake of the Disney animated film. This leaves it with the baggage of having to include all the talking crockery and furniture and especially of having to be a musical. This leads you to question who the audience watching the film is. Is it the audience that grew up on the animated film or is it the audience that came to see it as a Broadway musical? In which case what you feel you are sitting down to watch is not so much another Disney live-action film as you are joining the same audience that came to see films like Chicago (2002), The Phantom of the Opera (2004) or Mamma Mia (2008).
Director Bill Condon started out in genre material with films such as Sister Sister (1987) and Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995), as well as writing the scripts for genre efforts such as Dead Kids/Strange Behavior (1981) and Strange Invaders (1983). He found his calling with Gods and Monsters (1998) about the life of director James Whale and went onto a bunch of high-profile films that include Kinsey (2004), Dreamgirls (2006), The Fifth Estate (2013), The Twilight Saga two-parter Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011) and Breaking Dawn Part Two (2012) and Mr. Holmes (2015), as well as wrote the screenplay for Chicago (2002).
Other versions of Beauty and the Beast include: several lost silent versions made variously in 1899, 1903, 1905, 1908, 1912, 1913 and 1922; Jean Cocteaus classic version Beauty and the Beast (1946) with Jean Marais and Josette Day; the stodgy Technicolor adaptation Beauty and the Beast (1961) starring Mark Damon and Joyce Taylor; Beauty and the Beast (1976), a tv movie adaptation starring George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere; a Czech adaptation Beauty and the Beast (1979); a 1984 episode of Shelley Duvals Faerie Tale Theater starring Klaus Kinski and Susan Sarandon and directed by Roger Vadim; the Cannon Movie Tales adaptation Beauty and the Beast (1987) with John Savage and Rebecca De Mornay; Beauty and the Beast (1991), the Disney animated adaptation; Beauty (2004) starring Martin Clunes and Sienna Guillory, a modernised retelling; Beauty and the Beast (2009) starring Estella Warren, which turned the fairytale into a cheap fantasy adventure; Beastly (2011) starring Alex Pettyfer and Vanessa Hudgens, which transplanted the fairytale into a modern high school setting; the tv movie Beauty and the Beast (2012) starring Ruith Bradley; and Christophe Gans exquisitely dreamy Beauty and the Beast (2014) with Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel. Beauty and the Beast (1987-90) was a fantastical contemporary urban tv series loosely based on the fairy-tale, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton, and was later remade as Beauty and the Beast (2012-6) starring Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan.
(Nominee for Best Production Design at this sites Best of 2017 Awards).