Beauty and the Beast
A flawed remake that’s worth watching anyway
Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney animated film. Featuring the delightful songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the highest quality old-fashioned animation, and a well-told (if heavily altered) fairy tale, the film has several flaws—the biggest being the redemptive violence at the film’s conclusion. Disney’s typical need to kill off the baddie has nothing to do with the fairy tale on which the film is based.
The film’s biggest flaw was entirely predictable and is difficult to challenge in a remake. I am referring to the killing off of the baddie at the end of the film.
In 1994, Beauty and the Beast became a successful Broadway musical, with additional songs by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. That musical has now been used to create a live-action remake of the film, adding to a list of recent Disney remakes that is bound to get a lot longer (e.g., Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon). The cynical part of me wonders whether such live-action remakes are at all necessary. Do they contribute anything new, or are they just an easy way for the wealthiest studio in the world to make another mountain of money? The truth is that I have appreciated all the Disney remakes, and Pete’s Dragon was much better than the original, so I have to keep an open mind on this question.
But this question is particularly relevant for our discussion of the new Beauty and the Beast, because it is populated by so many CGI characters, whose voices are provided from a sound booth, just as in animated films. In other words, with all its CGI characters and too much CGI cinematography, it could be argued that the new film is an animation/live-action hybrid, making it that much harder to justify the remake (though not in terms of profit).
The new Beauty and the Beast is the year’s biggest blockbuster so far. With Menken’s marvelous melodies, the witty song lyrics, the gorgeous cinematography, and stars like Emma Watson, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Kevin Kline, Disney could hardly have gone wrong with this remake. Nevertheless, it did go wrong, and more than once, though I enjoyed the film anyway.
Disney actually went wrong very early in the film. The introductory pre-Belle sequence is quite good, but then Emma Watson starts to sing. Overall, I was very impressed with Watson’s performance, which removed any doubts I had about the casting choice. But apparently Watson’s singing abilities are not up to Disney’s standards, because it saw fit to auto-tune her voice. This was a major disappointment for me. In my opinion, filmmakers should either cast a singer for a musical role or go with what they have (e.g., Les Misérables, La La Land, both of which made my top two films of the year), but they should not use auto-tune. I worry about a future where actors and songs will be entirely computer-generated—a very scary thought.
Then there’s the film’s length. The new Beauty and the Beast is a full 45 minutes longer than the original. In a musical, this is only justifiable with the addition of a lot more singing. There were some new songs, and I enjoyed all of them, but they don’t take up anywhere near enough time to justify that 45 minutes. It’s hard to sustain the magic of this story, as it is told here, for 129 minutes. With the inevitable number of scenes that fall a little flat, the film just felt too long.
Part of that problem are the many CGI characters to which I have already alluded. In a live-action film, some of those characters had too much airtime, and some, like Madame Garderobe, just grated on me throughout.
The film’s biggest flaw was entirely predictable and is difficult to challenge in a remake. I am referring to the killing off of the baddie at the end of the film. Employing Disney’s classic “hand of God” to do the killing, as Disney has often done since its first animated feature film (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) in 1937, the death of the baddie feels singularly out of place in Beauty and the Beast. This is, after all, the story of a baddie’s redemption. To me, it reveals an incredible lack of imagination, not to mention a flawed moral compass, to insist on such an incongruously violent ending to such a positive story.
With all its flaws, however, Beauty and the Beast remains a joyous film-watching experience, not least because of the presence of the fine actors already mentioned, all of whom did an excellent job. Watson injected Belle with precisely the right amount of pluck and intelligence, making her a strong female lead who is also a positive role model for young viewers. Dan Stevens is good as the Beast and Luke Evans and Josh Gad are well cast as Gaston and LeFou. Bill Condon’s direction is solid, if not as inspired as I might like.
Perhaps my favorite parts of the Beauty and the Beast remake are the new songs and scenes that made me momentarily forget that I had seen this film many times before. There is still some magic here, literally in the case of the presence of Agathe, the Enchantress (played by Hattie Morahan). So despite its flaws, I recommend Beauty and the Beast to everyone. And don’t forget to stay for one of the best end credits I have ever seen or heard.
Beauty and the Beast is rated PG for some action violence, peril, and frightening images.
All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.