The time has come. The 2017 remake to Beauty and the Beast is finally out. After months of waiting for something, anything, even just a trailer to come out, I have finally seen it.
And, to be fair, the film has some pretty big shoes to fill. The original 1991 adaption is pretty much a perfect movie, as far as I’m concerned. It’s really difficult to compete with something that has already won my heart so completely, but nonetheless, I went into this movie really, really wanting to like it. After all, there was a lot to it that was incredibly promising.
I loved the casting of the movie, which included some pretty incredible actors who suited their roles perfectly – Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, and Josh Gad in particular. I loved the speculation that this would be the first Disney movie to feature an openly gay character (although this is hardly the first Disney movie to feature a gay character, let’s be honest here). And considering I’ve seen Stephen Chbosky write some pretty interesting works with similar themes, I figured that he’d produce an incredible script. And if all else failed, if nothing else in this movie was at all good, I had faith from what I had seen that at least the visuals would be stunning – something that was true about prior live action Disney films, like Maleficent, Cinderella, and the Jungle Book. Really, my only concern about the movie was that it might just be a direct remake of the original with only a few filler scenes thrown in to make it fill a longer running time, but since the original was so good anyway, would that really be a bad thing? If that was the worst that I had to fear, then at least it wasn’t going to be a bad movie. Just a pointless one.
So having seen it now, how did it hold up to expectations? Was it as good as the original? Was it just a pointless remake?
Let’s start with the one thing I figured I had to like: the cast. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know a whole lot about Dan Stevens going into this film, having never seen him in anything else, but the rest of the cast comprised of people that I knew and loved and expected great things out of.
Emma Watson, for example, couldn’t possibly be bad, the way that I saw it. After all, she had pretty much played this role before, when she portrayed Hermione in what is perhaps my favourite franchise, Harry Potter. I was dying to see her in this, and, to be perfectly honest, I felt sort of let down. In all honesty, as much as I thought that Emma Watson was perfectly casted before going into the film, I quickly changed my mind when I actually saw her. A lot of people have been complaining about the fact that her singing voice isn’t the greatest, and as much as I agree with that, it’s nothing compared to the fact that she just couldn’t emote all that well. Naturally, Emma Watson strikes me as a woman who’s very controlled, very prim and proper, while Belle in the original was passionate and highly emotional. And to be honest, Emma Watson’s acting really took away from the emotional resonance of many of the scenes. The ending of the original movie to this day brings me to tears, but despite the fact that they pretty much recycled that script for the remake, I couldn’t bring myself to care. Not about Belle’s lack of emotions, and not about the Beast either.
On a similar note, Dan Stevens might have been a decent actor. I’m not entirely sure – it was really difficult to tell through all of that CGI. In animation, the Beast can be expressive, emotional, just a much as any of the human characters, but in live action, the CGI is too distracting and unconvincing, and Dan Stevens’ expressions get lost in it.
That being said, there were still performances that I enjoyed. It is impossible for me to dislike Ewan McGregor or Ian McKellen, although their characters were focused on much less in this adaption. Josh Gad was perfectly casted, and I will give absolutely no complaints about his character – he might have honestly been my favourite part in this film. And Luke Evans, portraying one of my favourite Disney villains, put in a great performance, just as I expected he would. My only problems with Gaston were in how he was written.
Which brings me to my next concern – the writing. A lot of it, as I mentioned before, was recycled from the old film, including direct dialogue. And on the one hand, yes, it’s good dialogue – there’s a reason why the original film is a classic. But at the same time, this is a remake, and it’s a remake of a film that it can never entirely replace or improve upon unless they’re willing to make some changes, rather than lean on the old film.
But, to be fair, the writing that they recycle is better than the stuff that they added. Gaston’s character has been changed drastically from the original, and this might be the thing that bothered me the most. Because like I said, I liked Gaston in the original. I liked that he wasn’t really so much of a villain as he was a spoiled brat who had been told all his life that he was right and people like Belle and the Beast were wrong. He was a man who had never been told no once in his life, he was the straight, white, hyper-masculine, in every way ideal man who felt like he was entitled to everything and everything he did was right. He wasn’t evil – just a man who became a villain through his circumstances.
Well, throw all that garbage away for this remake – in this version he’s straight-up cool with murder right from the beginning. He’s a sadist and a psychopath who’s calmed down by thoughts of pain and violence and bloodshed. His complexity is stripped away to give us a very basic villain. They do give him a backstory as though to explain all of this, making him a war veteran, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the animated adaption gave us a villain who was fascinating and complex at best and funny at least, and this adaption gave us something much simpler.
Speaking of Gaston’s backstory, furthermore, backstories seem to be pretty par for the course for this film. Belle is given a backstory involving her mother that really doesn’t add anything to the film and is actually just somewhat distracting from the plot. There are hints of a subplot involving the Beast and his father, and as interesting as I initially found that, it really isn’t explored.
And in my opinion, the Beast really wasn’t written well in this film either. The Beast from the original adaption might just be my favourite character in all of Disney. He was a hero, but he was incredibly flawed. He was a spoiled brat with a temper problem, but he still had a conscience – he just acted out because he was terribly unhappy and had an incredibly low self-esteem. He was a character who is immediately recognizable to anyone who has dealt with issues of mental illness. And in this version, he’s mostly just a dick. A lot of his more humanizing moments, ones where he’s incredibly low, to the point of being actually suicidal, are either much more understated or written out entirely. His moments of guilt regarding his behaviour are, again, either written out, or Dan Stevens really could not emote at all through that CGI. And there’s a running joke throughout the film where the Beast mocks Belle for her taste in literature that really comes across as belittling to me – but maybe that’s just because the Beast in the original was just so enthralled with her reading.
And overall, I just found that, with the exception of Lefou, I didn’t care about these characters as much as I cared about them in the original. Though the film had more time to explore these characters, they instead decided to spend this time on unnecessary backstories or songs that were written out of the original film for a reason.
Now, to be fair, there were a few things about this film that I liked. I’ve mentioned Lefou a few times, and that’s because Josh Gad really did present a great performance, and the writers did make him more complex than he was in the original (not that that was all too difficult, considering he was barely a sidekick in the original). As far as representation of a gay character goes, he wasn’t stereotypical or offensive or anything like that – though I don’t really know why he earns the title of First Gay Character in Disney when it could have gone just as easily to Winnie the Pooh or Piglet (considering their relationship to one another), or Hugo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame (who has a romance with a male goat), or Ryan Evans from High School Musical (considering actor’s speculations), or a million other characters who are just as likely to be the First Gay Character as Lefou is. No official statements are made in regard to it – there are just a lot of heavy hints, enough that it can’t really be denied, but not that it’s anything really new or spectacular for Disney.
And there were a few things about the visuals that I really enjoyed. The 17th century French aesthetic was beautiful and felt somehow unique – especially considering they actually allowed a Disney prince (a character who is supposed to be read as masculine enough to be attractive to the general audience of heterosexual cis-women) to wear make-up. And I’d love to see the film again not in 3D, just because I felt that the 3D blurred the sets quite a bit, making it difficult to say for sure that the sets were beautiful. Personally, I found some of Disney’s other live action films, including Cinderella and Maleficent, more visually stunning, which is disappointing because the original Beauty and the Beast is magnificently animated, but I can’t say that it was a complete let-down.
But overall, there is just one glaring problem with this movie, and that is the fact that it is a remake. Not all remakes are bad obviously – even Disney has produced some pretty good live action remakes recently. I liked Cinderella, I liked Maleficent, I liked the Jungle Book, but all of those movies are remakes of much older movies. Writing styles and audience expectations have changed since the time when these movies came out originally, and therefore there were little character tweaks and plot developments that could be made. Maleficent could be turned into a grey-area character rather than a straight-out villain. The stepmother and the prince in Cinderella could be developed better. And societal views about the ‘primitive’ Indian jungle have changed since 1967. But our society’s expectations around writing haven’t actually changed all that much since 1991 – or, at least, Beauty and the Beast wasn’t as outdated as the other films that have been remade. And to a certain extent, that does make this film sort of pointless. Why do we need another Beauty and the Beast, clogged up with pointless scenes and unnecessary alterations, when the first one is still perfectly fine?
And as much as I’ve complained about this film (and trust me, there’s still more I can say), I wouldn’t call it a complete waste of time. I’m glad I saw it. I needed to see it, considering how much I love the original. And I won’t deny that my love of the original might just cloud my opinion of the remake – as you can tell from my review, as I was repeatedly comparing the two movies. The only reason why this movie fails, in my opinion, is that it was already done better. Otherwise, this might be a perfectly serviceable adaption of the fairy tale. So if you want to see it, you won’t be wasting your time. You just won’t be watching an improvement on the story.