Tuesday, March 28, 2017

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST -- My review

Saw Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST this weekend, based on the Disney animated version that didn’t need to be remade except for all the money it’ll make for Disney. There’s also a live Broadway musical. I fully expect a performance of that to be filmed and released as yet another version of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Oh, and six other Disney animated films are in the process of being developed for films. Can BEAUTY AND THE BEAST casinos and airport bars be far behind? I can’t believe there are no BEAUTY AND THE BEAST puppet shows, Cirque du Soleil underwater extravaganzas, or skydiving versions for Nebraska air shows.

The current live-action version is exactly what you think it is. Extremely well done, very lavish, minute attention to detail, and a remake that’s as old as time. If there wasn’t the animated version this reboot might be considered dazzling. And again, Disney knows how to do it right. This is way better than the live versions of non-Disney cartoons like INSPECTOR GADGET or RICHIE RICH or ROCKY & BULLWINKLE (although Piper Perabo was robbed at Oscar time with that one).

But if you have seen the animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and you’re not nine, you probably will find yourself checking your watch an hour in. They added new story beats that frankly all felt like padding. There’s no reason the movie should be 129 minutes.

This is me watching this movie: It begins – I’m impressed with the sets (although it's the France where no one speaks French), the opening number is colorful and faithful to the original (and by original I mean the cartoon), and Emma Watson can sing (as opposed to another Emma who Warren Beatty thought won the Best Picture Oscar).

The story unfolds. I’m wondering: was the Beast’s long neglected castle based on the original or Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion? Kevin Kline plays Belle’s father and I’m thinking: Since when did he become a Billy Connolly impersonator?

The animated Belle was very two-dimensional and Emma Watson captured both dimensions. She’s plucky, she’s adorable, and Anne Hathaway is too old. Thank God there isn’t an HBO version starring Lena Dunham.

Now I’m trying to decide whether I like the Beast’s make up.  He's modeled after the original. He’s hardly repulsive to look at. Disney could have saved a lot of money in make up if they had just hired Steve Buscemi. But then I figure: the Beast can’t be too scary or he’ll scare the shit out of millions of tykes (translation: millions of dollars). So he’s a Wookiee with two rams’ horns.

Belle becomes a prisoner in the castle. If you’re yelling “Spoiler Alert,” come on, the cartoon version has been out for 26 years. At this point I’m thinking two things: The talking inanimate objects just look very CGI (they weren’t magical; they were digital), and when are they going back to a Gaston scene?

Luke Evans as Gaston steals the movie for me. My only problem is that he looks 45 and Belle looks 15.  We're getting into Woody Allen country here. But he’s hilarious as is his sidekick played by Josh Gad. I was impressed with Josh Gad. He always plays the nerdish bumbling sidekick, but in this film he really stretches. Yes, he plays a nerdish bumbling sidekick but with straight hair.

I’m also starting to check my watch. The movie's getting long. And with every new detour to added filler material I’m thinking: “Shit, we still have the ballroom dance and Belle-sees-the-library scenes to go.”

The saving grace are the songs. I love those songs (not particularly the new ones -- inserted only to snag a Best Original Song Oscar) and unlike LA LA LAND, each one is gorgeously sung. The visuals and choreography also do justice to every note. Director Bill Condon knows how to stage a production number.

The last act is very stirring and well done. HOME ALONE with the CGI clocks and candlesticks. And I was charmed when the Beast finally turned into handsome Dan Stevens (although I would have been more charmed if it were twenty minutes earlier) but kept thinking: He sure traded up from Lady Mary. (Note: That was a DOWNTON ABBEY reference.)

I also keep waiting throughout for the infamous gay character that has some foreign countries all in a tither. Turns out it’s one great joke. Really? THAT’S the big controversy? Disney has an obligation to be absolutely PC and uphold Red State family values? This is the company that gave us SONG OF THE SOUTH and the Big Bad Wolf originally disguising himself as a Hasidic Jew to fool the Three Little Pigs. More gay jokes please. Grow up Malaysia!

Worse to me is that in the animated version Gaston used a bow and arrow. Here he fires a rifle.

There are those who argue that the Gaston/LeFou relationship has a gay undercurrent but God knows what Captain Hook made Smee do in the Jolly Roger.

All of talking appliances were voiced by A or B-list actors. Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson (if you’re an actress named Emma you sang in a movie this year), Stanley Tucci, and Audra McDonald. Until the end you just heard their voices. They didn’t make Ian McKellen scrunch down into a clock costume.

The most interesting thing about this BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is that it made me want to revisit the animated version. So Disney makes another dollar. "Mission accomplished," Bob Iger is saying.

30 comments :

Peter said...

"God knows what Captain Hook made Smee do in the Jolly Roger."

LOL! Great line, Ken. And that would certainly have made the terminally tedious HOOK movie more interesting.

All we need now is for Ron Jeremy to do the inevitable BOOTY AND THE BEAST.

Peter said...

Ken, if you haven't seen it yet, I strongly recommend KONG: SKULL ISLAND. It's terrific fun. Unlike Peter Jackson's movie, which didn't introduce King Kong until an HOUR into its 3 hour running time, this wastes no time getting down to the action. John C Reilly is brilliant as the comic relief and the FX are superb. If you see it, stay to the end of the credits for an extra scene.

And on that point, why is it only popcorn movies have post-credits scenes? Why can't arthouse movies do the same? Maybe a post-credits scene in ROOM that hinted at a sequel, KITCHEN, or a post-credits scene for MOONLIGHT teasing a sequel, MOONLIGHT 2: This time it's sapphic.

PatGLex said...

Beauty and the Beast was not my favorite Disney animation of that era; in fact, I liked both Little Mermaid and Aladdin (which bookended BATB) better. I enjoyed this live-action much more than the animated. The movie did not seem long to me. I liked the backstory that they didn't include in the animated. (How bad *was* the Beast that he was cursed? Why were Belle and her father living in a backwater town?) I found the CGI characters interesting, and thought both Audra McDonald's and Stanley Tucci's skills wasted here. Bottom line: liked it a lot and do not regret giving Disney my money.

My "duh" moment in a Disney movie came with Frozen: within the first 15 minutes I thought to myself "this is the next Disney Broadway musical." OF course, finding out afterward that the music was written by Broadway vets made it even more obvious.

VincentS said...

On behalf of Steve Buscemi - Ouch!

Demos Euclid said...

That sums up many of my feeling towards the Beauty and the Beast remake very well. The tale as old as time as long as it isn’t more than 25 years old; otherwise, it’s prime time for a remake! The new iteration is hardly a bad film, flaws and all, but it just fails to live up to the magic of its direct inspiration – an inspiration that it doesn’t allow you to overlook!

Of course, the success of these live-action Disney adaptations (The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, etc.) means that they're going to go overboard with tons of upcoming remakes such as Tim Burton's take on Dumbo starring Danny DeVito - the jokes write themselves. Thankfully, they haven't announced a remake of Bambi as it was already nailed perfectly in 1978's The Deer Hunter.

Nick Alexander said...

If the live action remake doesn't improve upon the cartoon, it is a waste of time. Disney would do far better to remake the flawed movies in their roster, so to improve upon them. This they had done already, improving on "The Jungle Book" and "Pete's Dragon."

Which is my longhanded way of saying... REMAKE SONG OF THE SOUTH ALREADY--but remove the offensive parts. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip-a-dee-ay.

Barry Traylor said...

My wife took our ten year old granddaughter to see and here is the big surprise. Granddaughter
was bored but my wife loved it. Myself I could not be bothered.

Covarr said...

The (amateur) audio engineer in me was going crazy with how much autotune they applied to Emma Watson. I don't know if it's because she couldn't hold a tune without it, or because they wanted a specific sound out of her that was different than she naturally sounded, but the end result was very robotic.

The rest of me pretty much entirely agrees with your review. I've been considering, on and off for a few years now, fan editing a film to get some serious editing practice. This movie looks like just the right one for it. I won't be able to distribute it, but I'm sure my family won't mind a slimmed down version without all the unneeded filler.

Andrew said...

You're an uglyaphobe. You need to reject your handsome privilege.

Betty said...

I thought it dragged. The only point where the CGI bothered me was when the beast was leaping across rooftops. Every female I have questioned thinks the beast was hotter than the prince. It was a shame that Audra wasn't singing THE song for the big ballroom dance. Josh Gad=very funny. Fabulous costumes and sets. Glad I saw it, not buying the dvd.

therealshell said...

I am looking forward to the animated version of Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

Jan Niklas Fingerle said...

I didn't understand your obsession with Emma Stone. I mean, she played in Cabaret at Studio 54, she hit the notes and the mood in La La Land.

But now with your praise of Emma Watson's singing talent I get it: You're not into natural voices, you like AutoTune fast food.

I really liked this real world version of Beauty and the Beast. The story works better for me than the original. But what really put me off is Emma Watson's "singing" voice. I've got no idea if she can sing. But I'm sure that Beauty and the Beast doesn't help in finding out. For some reason Disney decided to autotune the hell out of her. That doesn't mean, that her voice needed to be autotuned, who knows. But the resulting mess didn't even match her talking voice any more. If Disney didn't like her voice, they should have gone full West Side Story.

And it's really a shame for an otherwise very enjoyable movie.

VP81955 said...

Emma (Stone, Watson, Thompson) is the new Jennifer.

Laura said...

We get it... we get it..... we get ittttt...........

Emma Stone didn't sing but got the Oscar.... Sheeeeeezzzzzzzzzzzzz

blinky said...

Do "Get Out", please.

McAlvie said...

Well, Emma's a little older than she looks. She must be mid-late 20s by now. But definitely young looking. Her youthfulness and small stature probably help sell the contrast between beauty and beast. And, to be fair, I suspect there was somewhat of an age difference in the original, and I mean original story. Assuming the beast wasn't 10 when he was bewitched, and he'd been alone in that castle for a long time, right? Then Belle was young enough to be chased after by the village lads, or at least lad. So actually a 15-20 year age difference is probably about right.

But I hear you on the whole remake thing. However, I think it says more about Hollywood than it does Disney. This remake will probably be better than anything original Hollywood puts out this year. If Hollywood bothers with original. Disney isn't the only one with remake fever. Now if they would only remake a BAD movies and improve it instead of making lackluster imitations of classics.

Peter said...

Surely it's only a matter of time before there's a remake of Mannequin.

Anonymous said...

@Nick Alexander (who can' t say no) you can' t leave out the Tar Baby scene. It's one of the funniest in any movie.

MikeKPa. said...

Buscemi, Allen and Hook lines were laugh-out loud. I sensed a lot of Gene Shalit (who turned 91 two days ago) snarkiness in the review, and loved it.

me said...

You know the music for Mermaid, Beauty and Aladdin were all written by Broadway veterans (Alan Mencken, most significantly with the late Howard Ashman) and Ashman in particular was responsible for casting Broadway talent in the singing roles?

me said...

Ken, I'm surprised by your comments about Watson's singing. Her delivery carries no character or emotion whatsoever (my daughter described her as sounding like a really good Yamaha Volcaloid). For all LaLa Land's singing flaws, there are character and emotional beats that come through clearly on the recording.

Perhaps the on-screen action masks that to an extent, the way Conor Smulders' good looks mask her inability to land a joke?

If you've the inclination, I recommend you listen to Paige O'Hara on the original 'Belle' then Watson's.

d

Mike Doran said...

I think I've figured it out:

About a decade back, all the American actresses were named Amy (Adams, Ryan, Poehler, et al.).
At the same time, all the British actresses were named Emily (Watson, Mortimer, Lloyd, Blunt, et al.)
Clearly, Emma is the Transatlantic mashup.

Anonymous said...

I sense a lot of Disney movies in your future thanks to you granddaughter! Enjoy.Janice B.

Robert Forman said...

I had the great pleasure of seeing the original Gaston "actor", supervising animator Andreas Deja, at the Walt Disney family museum this past week. Animation fans should visit his web site "Deja View" and, if in San Francisco currently and through the summer, visit the special exhibit of his work there. Deja was also responsible for The Liion King's Scar and Aladdin's Jafar. He is currently animating a personal project called Mushka. It's sad that Disney is no longer producing the 2D animated films that made it famous.

Arthur said...

I recall as a young child watching the other TV channel (the non-NBC,CBS,ABC one, the PBS affiliate) and accidentally coming across Cocteau's early-postwar 1946 version of "Beauty and the Beast" (La Belle et la BĂȘte.) That original version amazed me then and later again as an adult, with its darker fairy-tale atmosphere and - yes- the way they managed the dream-like effects and the period feel. Included in that version were dark insights about humans, motives, terrible family members, and also something obviously too sickly sweet in the ending. Whatever the many merits of Disney's animated family musical, and now this version, the pity is, the story script gets Disney-fied, the fairy-tale atmosphere substituted by effects and too many songs, such that one can feel a constant adjustment between artistry and management, keeping its options to versions in any direction, from "on ice" to Broadway, or this live-actor film. At this point, it might as well be about a mascot, rather than trying to re-tell a fairy-tale.

stephen catron said...

Stone appears on Broadway to very good reviews as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Yet you think she can't sing. Watson is a famous actress.

Hazel said...

I always find it funny when people cite someone playing Sally Bowles in Cabaret as evidence they can sing. In the stage play, the she is supposed to be untalented! They changed it for the movie, because Liza Minelli could actually sing; that was one of the major changes between the stage play and the movie.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wickedly great review, Ken.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

ISTM that LA LA LAND reflects the desire of a lot of people to hear something authentic, and the way the movie chose to show that was by having the singing imperfect - kind of along the line of the BUFFY musical, GLEE, etc. I was more disappointed by the dancing, which was pretty limited in scope, but that, too, is part of the thing: in 2017 we're just not making SINGING IN THE RAIN any more, and I don't think the movie was tryying to be that.

wg

VP81955 said...

Didn't "Xena: Warrior Princess" do a musical episode before "Buffy"? (And Lucy Lawless is a trained singer.) Alas, nobody remembers it, perhaps since in popular culture, Xenites are drowned out by Whedonites. There are many things to like about Joss Whedon, mind you (I understand he's been hired to direct a standalone "Batgirl" movie), but like Beyonce, he appears to be one of these folks it's against the law to criticize.