I LOVE the Disney animated movie (hand-drawn cartoon) Beauty and the Beast (1991). It is my favourite Disney animated movie of all times. (Not counting Pixar 3D-animated movies.) I was a kid back then but I can still remember the ballroom scene that composite hand-drawn cartoon with the 3D-CGI ballroom and chandelier. It resonated with me because the visuals were stunning, the song was sung with such feeling and it just builds and builds to a crescendo, leaving me breathless and watery-eyed at the same time. And I was in love with Belle. 😉 She’s smart, beautiful & has a mind of her own. Oh, and she’s French!
The new BatB “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) made a heroic effort to turn a fantasy cartoon into a live-action movie and while it gained a lot of realism, it lost a lot of charm & grace… and a little bit of comedy. This doesn’t make it a bad movie because I still scored it a 7/10 for explaining much of what the 1991 movie passed on without explaining, and the shear size and technical achievement of making the castle & fantasy characters believable in the real-world. However, I wasn’t able to be fully immersed in the story or suspend my disbelief until the final act of the movie when the pace picked up and the emotions swelled.
Score: 7 / 10
Pros: The story does work and filled in a lot of missing details from the cartoon movie. The sets and characters are well animated and looks real. The acting was decent and towards the end, you may even shed a tear. There are more songs for the title characters, which really helped you care for them towards the end.
Cons: The Director’s or Producers’ pacing is too uneven, starting out slow, plateu in the middle, then shoot you to space right at the end. Fans of the 1991 cartoon knows what to expect next but new viewers may get lost. Major plot points can be condensed. This even affected some of the songs which develops the individual character’s story arc.
More Cons: Emma Watson was really wooden in some scenes and I blame it on the Director. See the Chip blows bubble scene…
Let’s go in-depth into BatB (2017)
With the remake of any beloved movie or franchise, the new crew has the unenviable task of living up to the expectations of fans, while coming up with something new that can stand on its own. Unfair comparison is inevitable because when you watch a movie as your younger self, you are more impressionable compared to your older jaded soul. This is called nostalgia and it affects almost all of us. With that in mind, I will try to be as impartial as possible. If it’s my preference vs the director’s choice, I will highlight that! Other than that, I will review this movie like any other.
The movie opens differently from the original. Instead of a monologue of the story with a stained glass “slideshow,” BatB (2017) opens with a ballroom party where the Prince was dancing & swooning guests until the old haggard lady came in looking for shelter from the bitter cold. The opening scene sets the tone of the movie and it completely fell flat emotionally.
It could have been set as a fantasy (flashback) scene like in the Labyrinth (1986) with a dreamy whimsical tone or it could have been dark & foreboding like Maleficient (2014). Instead, the director went for a Prince not accepting a rose and getting turned into a goat-head giant sprouting orang-utan fur. It was neither fearsome nor sad. The cartoon stained glass at least show the Prince in anguish. This is just boring… like so many other reviewers who noted the director just going along for the ride, not taking any risks or driving a singular vision that could make this movie great.
If you’re coming into BatB for the first time, you will be wowed by the baroque costumes and the grandiose castle and that’s great. What I’m saying is the director could have taken these sets & settings and made them GREAT. And that is my biggest problem with this movie. After Maleficient, I was ready to see more grandiose in Disney life-action remakes and I was disappointed in that respect.
This opening scene could have been done in a much darker note showing the terror & decay of the inhabitants and the amnesia that befalls their loved ones at the neighbouring village with the aftermath of the villagers losing their children, who became teacups. It would also be a much sharper contrast when Belle starts her whimiscal “Little Town” song showcasing her loneliness and dissatisfactoion of living in a village without teenagers. The issue of not going “the extra mile” continues in Act 1 & 2.
After this, it cuts to Belle’s opening number and that is my second-biggest issue with this movie. Throughout the movie, Emma Watson’s singing was heavily synthesize with Auto-Tune. Being the title singing role, I would rather they get a professional singer like Ariana Grande to dub over Emma’s singing rather than hearing an unnatural synthesized voice, if Emma really can’t sing. Disney has done this in many of their movies where the singing voice is different from the speaking voice. I’m a fan of Emma Watson and her Auto-tuned singing really irritated me on many level.
My third biggest issue is with Emma Watson’s acting or Bill Condon’s direction. Animated Belle was spunky, intelligent, compassionate and graceful. Hermione (Harry Potter franchise) was spunky, intelligent & compassionate (but not graceful). So what happened to Emma Watson? Her performance was pretty sub par in many scenes and I’m willing to bet it’s the director’s fault.
I heard Emma had a very active role in redefining Belle to cater to the feminist movement. However, not all the scenes worked and it’s the director’s job to decide what scenes to keep or cut. Animated Belle was really into books and she seem to have gotten a lot of that from the bookstore, hence she’s smart but innocent. Emma’s Belle showed much less interest in books and the movie show her going to a church for books? And there was less than 10 paperback size books on the counter. How many of those are bibles I wonder… And just like that, the fountain scene was cut. Emma’s Belle did show she can use her smarts with her own invention and that worked for the movie.
The 1991 cartoon movie skipped many plot points to maintain a very focused pace including cutting the entire fantastically animated sequence with the wonderful song “To Be Human Again” from the theatrical release. When I watched the Remastered BatB (1991), I completely understood why it was cut in the first place. It didn’t contribute to the movie story-wise and inserted a 5-minute break to the pace. All the characters had overtly mention their longing for Belle to break the spell multiple times, which meant turning back to human again. There isn’t any need to waste 5 minutes of screen time to reinforce something the audience already knew.
This is the next problem I have with this movie. The pacing is slow. The songs are longer, even the “Be my guest” sequence didn’t get interesting until the last 15-seconds, but the first minute of the build-up was so slow! And Belle STILL didn’t get to eat anything except for the pudding that was not trashed by the Dishes & their Friends. For some reason, the director wants us to wait and wait till the end before he blast us with everything the CGI department can throw at us! He could just increase the tempo to match the animated movie & it’ll be fine! So I didn’t really enjoy most of Ewan Mcgregor’s “Be My Guest.” Also, Ian McKellen’s Cosworth was quite boring.
It’s the same with the entire movie. Act 1 & 2 was slow & draggy, and while I appreciate the story really being fleshed out to explain so many questions we had from the cartoon, the build-up could have been better handled. There were so many padding in Act 2 between Gaston and Maurice when a brief scene would suffice. I mean there’s a 2 minute sequence of Gaston trying to kill Maurice and Le Fou trying to stop him. Then a 3-4 minute sequence of Gaston framing Maurice and getting him locked in a cart bound for the asylum. The cartoon’s way was much more effective in this instance and moved the story quicker. Of course, it could be the producers wanting to give the wonderful Kelvin Kline more scenes, in which case, I feel the script was really weak with respect to Maurice, Agathe & Gaston. They should either cut that section out completely or show how Agathe is involved in all of this.
So, I just wasn’t emotionally involved in Act 1 & 2. Even the humour fell flat.
At this point in time you’d be wondering with so many negative comments, how the hell I gave this movie a 7?
Well, it’s because despite the director’s best efforts to dumb and slow down the movie, all the main cast did put in a really decent performance especially during their introduction and character development sequence when they’re singing. Besides Emma’s Auto-Tuned singing, everyone else’s was fine, which is weird since they only did it for Emma Watson.
Dan Stevens’ Beast was spot-on as a reluctant tyrant led astray by his father. Emma’s Belle was spunky & somewhat intelligent and she did shine in a few scenes (Act 1 & 2), although not graceful or genuinely curious (or excited) about living in an enchanted castle. Kelvin Kline’s Maurice’s tragic back-story of his wife’s death to the Bubonic Plague and his over-protection of Belle was believable & touching. Luke Evans’ Gaston is well portrayed as a megalomania & schizophrenic war-hero. Josh Gad’s LeFou lost the comedic sidekick role and became Gaston’s lover-in-the-waiting + moral compass.
Gaston’s self-admiration in the mirror scene was a highlight and it really contrasted with the director/producer not going all the way for each and every scene, like when Belle was teaching the little girl to read. They didn’t show the girl’s parents summoning the other villagers to pull Belle and the little girl apart with the girl being scolded by the parents and the rest of the villagers trashing Belle’s donkey-driven washing machine (which is a brilliant device that could have washed half the town’s laundry at a go!) This would have added 10 second of Belle’s disbelief and disgust of their petty small minds and added emotional depth in Act 1 that arc towards Act 3 when the townspeople were manipulated by Gaston to “Kill the Beast.”
The pivotal scene where Belle and Beast felt something inside them and Belle sang “Something There” started slow but build up faster than “Be Our Guest.” It worked and we gained more insight into why Belle could ever learn to love the Beast. The Beast was starting to melt and it showed in Dan Stevens’ performance, even beneath all that orang-utan fur. 🙂 By the end of the song, he had even learned to laugh and shot Belle down with a giant snowball, one of the few scenes with unexpected humour.
The most important scene of the movie has to be the ballroom dance scene where their love blossomed. The set was very well done and the mood/lighting was impeccable. Belle’s gown was BEAUTIFUL and the Beast suit was well-done. However, as with the rest of the movie, the magic isn’t turned on till the very end of the ballroom scene . I think it has to do with the cinematography being too choppy. There just wasn’t enough of the grand sweeping pans and pullback + zoom-ins from the dance to a wide-angle shot of the ballroom. The camera was dead set on the couple dancing and it cuts in and out of the scene instead of the original slow panning and zooming. However, the last 1/3 of the sequence did work when the music swells and the magic starts with the Beast sweeping Belle off her feet. Some may prefer this although I personally prefer the original 3D animated sequence.
I also prefer Angela Lansbury’s Mrs Potts rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” because everything just felt heightened. The notes soared higher, the musical crescendo was more majestic, so much so that you feel your soul being lifted as well. And it ended so sweet and gently. Emma Thomson did a decent job but Angela Lansbury did it with 1 take, hitting all the right highs and lows. I also prefer Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast”, although Ariana Grande & John Legend take was awesome too.
After this, the final Act starts when Gaston locked up Maurice & Belle and the pace picked up considerably. The music and singing also somehow picked up several notches with “Kill the Beast.” The director seemed to be in a rush to finish the movie and it seemed to make the movie MUCH more enjoyable! The plot was tighter, the action was swift and decisive. Mrs Potts recognised her husband from the village during the castle lobby fight sequence! Belle and the Beast tag-team to fight Gaston and Gaston’s cowardly act of begging the Beast not to let go, then shooting the Beast in the back made more sense than the original.
All the actors also seemed to wake up and really pulled their acts together. Belle suddenly became fearless and compassionate, Beast truly showed his aggressiveness and resolve, Gaston became the jealous & cunning nutcase he truly is.
After the last petal fell, BatB (2017) did something unexpected and pulled a tear-jerker by showing all the castle inhabitants turning to lifeless object in addition to the beast dying. Belle cried and finally confessed her love for the Beast. At this moment, the mysterious enchantress returned to break the spell, resurrecting and reforming the Prince. The castle staff reanimated & returned to their human form while winter turned to spring. And as a bonus, the village invaders suddenly remember the castle and their loved ones working there. This absolutely made a lot of sense retrospectively.
This last 10-15 minutes of the movie really saved it. While it’s still not great enough for me to give it 7.5, it made me feel it was still worth my money bringing the family to watch it. Without it, I would have rated this movie a 6. It’s interesting to note that when I watched BatB on 16/3/2017, IMDB showed 6.1, but as of 18/3/2017, IMDB shows 7.6. Rotten Tomato also went up to 71% while Metacritic remains at 65.
I would recommend you go watch it. You will probably enjoy this more if you’ve never watch the animated movie first because there’s a reason the 1991 movie is rated an ‘8’ on IMDB.