Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast was a fun, nostalgic, live-action retelling of the beloved, classic animation but with 45 minutes more padding that added little to the depth of an already abbreviated fairy tale. Bill Condon’s remake was literally almost a play-by-play re-enactment and that led to the film being uninspiring and tired and – to quote itself – missing a certain je ne sais quois; the magic and joie de vivre of the original was largely missing. It also definitely did not help that Emma Watson, though physically well-cast as Belle, was otherwise horribly miscast and her lack of acting chops grossly magnified here, and the Beast’s mo-cap/CGI was terrifyingly plastic/wooden. Together, they lacked chemistry and could not sell the tale as old as time.

Speaking of CGI, this was nothing compared to the technological wonders of The Jungle Book. Our beloved Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts, et al were rendered competently but lacked the fluid and artistry afforded by hand-drawn animation. This was never more apparent that the biggest disappointment of the film, the iconic, supposedly show-stopper, undeniable ear-worm, Be My Guest. Under Condon’s direction, this scene became a kaleidoscopic, cabaret-esque CGI spectacle that was neither amazing, wondrous nor fun. And it absolutely did not help that Watson was similarly unimpressed.

Our second biggest disappointment was in the classic Ballroom dance moment. There was no magic, at all, in that moment. No magic. No chemistry. No wide-eyed wonder.

As gorgeous as the Beast’s abode was, the provincial village itself looked exactly like a reproduced set. Unfortunately, the obviousness of that highlighted the artificiality of the story and only helped to distanced the audience.

Regardless, the film itself could still have been so much better – even with the same screenplay – if the casting had been better.

Watson is pretty and she looks intelligent. Physically, she looks like Belle and if this was just a series of photographs, Watson utterly impresses. However, this was a moving picture and Watson undeniably is not a strong actress, yet. Her intelligence shone through, but her Belle also lacked the charm, grace and innocent naiveté necessary to sell the eventual love story. Although yes, one must acknowledge the times (2017 is not 1991), but to sell a fantasy romance, certain aspects of a character must be present. One can accept that Watson is not a singer, but as an actress she never really possessed the spirit of Belle.

However, the most egregious sin with the casting of Watson, was that with seven  eight Harry Potter films under her belt, one would think that she is accustomed to, and even excels at, acting opposite CGI. But this was obviously not the case and with such a CGI-heavy film, her unconvincing reactions constantly breaks the spell. And since Stevens was acting, on stilts, opposite Watson, there should be no excuse for Watson to be so stiff in her scenes with him
Speaking of Stevens, The Beast’s rather poor conception did not help things. This has got to be one of the poorest motion-capture performance/rendering in recent times. No offence to Dan Stevens, but mo-cap acting is a skill unto itself. Look at Caesar/Andy Serkis from the Planet of the Apes series. The Beast’s eyes betrayed the falseness of cinematic reality. And Condon’s brief moments into exploring his backstory was just that, too brief, to have an impact.

That is not to say that there were not any standout moments. Two of the best things of the film were the music by Alan Menken (with lyrics by Howards Ashman and Tim Rice) and Gaston as campily and gleefully played by Luke Evans.

Firstly, Evans. He can sing! And was possibly the best singer in the film. His ability to belt it out and his total embracement of his character allowed him to steal all his scenes up to a point that whenever he appears, the mood perceptibly changes. Coupled with Josh Gad – Olaf! – these two were a formidable comedic coupling and brought much needed levity to the film. Their (new) songs were welcomed addition to the film.

And then we have the music. The score by Menken survives through the times and remains as beautiful and enchanting as it had been. Both Josh Groban’s Evermore and Celine Dion’s How Does a Moment Last Forever worked a lot better in context of the film and one develops a new layer of appreciation for the tunes after having watched it. Stevens and Watson did a commendable job with their songs; Emma Thompson voiced Mrs Pots convincingly but her rendition of Beauty and the Beast lacked warmth and affection as compared to Angela Lansbury; Ewan McGregor can sing (see: Moulin Rouge) but here his show-stopping Be My Guest was lost in a frenzied CGI manipulation; lucky for Evans and Gad.

There is no doubt that much of the criticism laid at this film was because of a familiarity – and affection – for the original animation. And unlike Disney’s prior live-action outings like Cinderella and The JungleBook, there were no significant changes to the original story to give it a fresh perspective. The tale may be as old as time and Disney chose to keep it as such, and although it translated decently well, the cinematic magic of watching something new unfold is lost. 


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