Skip to main content

Someone turn me back into a clock, please!

Beauty and the Beast
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Eh, uh. Okay. I was never that taken with the ‘90s Disney animation renaissance. There were a few exceptions (Hercules, The Emperor’s New Groove – the atypical ones, basically), but mostly, they seemed overly concerned with distilling the classic era pictures in a staid and respectful, rather than inspired, manner. Formulaic, basically, and a formula they stuck to for half a dozen pictures that yielded tidy financial dividends. I can quite understand their appeal, but for me it was the Wolfgang Reitherman era, increasingly short-changed as it was, that was where it was at. This live-action remake does exactly what it was destined to do: satisfies those nostalgic for the quarter-of-a-century-old “original” while introducing it to a new generation (mostly, the old one’s kids). Beauty and the Beast is an immaculately-fashioned facsimile, and it’s engaging enough in fulfilling that limited purpose, but it’s also difficult to feel much of anything for it in terms of achievement, innovation, or indeed, its xeroxed heart.


It’s also something of the exception thus far in terms of quite how rigidly its makers have stuck to the template of the animated predecessor, songs and all. Cinderella wasn’t such a departure, admittedly (it dispensed with the ditties), but has the virtue of being a much-told and distinctive-in-its-own-right tale. The first thing people think of in respect of Beauty and the Beast is the 1991 movie (and then probably Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, and then, distantly alas, Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête). The Jungle Book unwisely (albeit, it certainly didn’t hinder its box office any) shoehorned in several songs from the 1967 (Reitherman) picture while ploughing an otherwise distinctive narrative furrow (whatever your opinion of the finished movie, and I was tepid on it, at least it had that). Likewise, last summer’s unfairly ignored Pete’s Dragon went its own route. The most extreme critiques of this Beauty and the Beast have compared it to Gus van Sant’s shot-for-shot Psycho, which is a little excessive, as there’s enough distinctiveness in transposing the medium to make it more than just a curiosity (as, again, the box office suggests). That said, it does, at times, feels like a souped-up, karaoke remount, or an extended version of those Oscar ceremony Best Song nominee performances.


So, Beauty and the Beast, a movie that teaches you it’s possible to win the woman of your dreams by locking her up, appears to have won hearts and minds everywhere. In fairness, Emma Watson’s probably right that the picture adroitly sidesteps Belle being a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, a charge levelled at the animation, but the same can’t be said for the servants of the house, who go out of their way to fess up to their own culpability in the downfall of their Prince. They’re mere staff, after all; they’d be out on their ears, or worse, if they had protested his depravity. But the makers (the screenwriters are Stephen Chbosky, of the very good The Perks of Being a Wallflower – also starring Watson – and Evan Spiliotopoulos, graduating from numerous straight-to-DVD second tier Disney animations) have, in remoulding this tale for the ages, done their best to sand down the rough edges of more unappetising character traits.


Hence, the Prince cannot be wholly to blame for others’ fates, and he can’t be wholly to blame for his own either (it’s his dastardly father wot set him on his blighted course). It might have been more interesting if he was a complete bounder of his own volition and still turned into a decent chap by the end of it; it certainly says something about the Mouse House’s lack of faith in its audience’s ability to accept that someone can change (the entire thrust of the tale, whether interpreted positively or negatively) that they have to provide excuses for his villainy (this is Disney all over, though: having a Stormtrooper as a protagonist was a great idea, having him as a protagonist who never even did a single nasty thing, not so much).


Of course, I shouldn’t have been expecting miracles, or even minor surprises. If you smooth out the rough edges of a fairy tale, what you do tend to get are Disney versions of fairy tales, and they’re only going to become ever smoother as the gulf between an acceptable 18th century morality tale and an equivalent 21st century one widens. Flip the coin, however, and the path of Gaston from ridiculous, preening braggart into a murderous fanatic is entirely convincing, particularly in his aptitude for inciting the mob to a Frankensteinian fever pitch. That’s mostly down to Luke Evans, who’s one of the unqualified successes of this version.


Much less so Josh Gad as his sidekick LeFou, overplaying to within an inch of his life (anyone would think director Bill Condon said to him, “Okay, Josh, you love Gaston psychotically and you’re to underline every moment creepily rather than humorously”), and only really delivers when he has calmed down after turning sides. Indeed, while the would-be uproarious Gaston wants to be as visually versatile as the original (a fool’s errand in itself), its failure is mostly down to Gad overdoing it, rather than the functional choreography.


Ironically, given the translation of medium, the most interesting musical number is Lumière’s highly animated rendition of Be Our Guest, complete with Busby Berkley-style overhead shots. It helps to that Ewan McGregor is singing the majority of it, although none of the thesps are an outright bust in the yodelling department. McGregor, who’s having a bit of a minor renaissance himself in roles of late, comes off best of those cast as animated furniture; (Sir) Ian McKellen makes much more of an impression during the couple of minutes he has been returned to physical form than as a mantel clock, while, in a very rare miss, Stanley Tucci’s Maestro Cadenza falls completely flat. Audra McDonald’s Madame de Garderobe doesn’t really work for me either, but it’s Emma Thompson’s ‘orrible cocker-nee mugging as Mrs Potts that really did my head in. Quite disastrous, but no doubt devotees of Dick Van Dyke’s oeuvre will love her.


The leads are where the telling lives or dies, however, and both Watson and Dan Stevens are fine, but no more than that; they don’t enchant, but they’re inoffensively likeable. It has been suggested Watson was auto-tuned, which she may well have been, but for me the real problem is that the majority of the songs lack verve and sparkle. As lauded as the original’s tunes are, it says all it needs to that Tim Rice can come it provide seamless additions.  Stevens plays better during the first half, where the Beast is a more fearsome quantity and the motion capture work presents his monster obscured, in long shot or shadow; in the full light of day, the CGI never quite carries, particularly when his demeanour too is softened or goofed up and Stevens sounds more like the spoiled rich kid the Beast was.


Indeed, the perennial problem any given version cannot escape is that the Beast Belle falls for is reduced to a non-descript, blandly handsome guy in the final scene (not that Stevens doesn’t have plenty of personality in other roles, but he’s entirely unable to summon that in approximately a minute). It also, in the post-Shrek era of highlighting inner beauty and with the frontloaded knowledge of the beast’s origins in the Disney versions, rather shoots its would be themes in the foot; the purity of Belle’s love is undermined by the audience knowing she will hit the jackpot if she accepts the monster, so conforming entirely to the template of a classic Disney princess. It’s a long way from the raison d’être of the original story, as a scene setter for arranged marriages (the ugly old guy you thought you’d been co-opted into a life with would, in the fullness of time, be revealed for his true virtues as you came to be accept/submit to them).


On the plus side, Beauty and the Beast boasts fine art direction, magnificent sets, and decent post-converted 3D (there’s a particularly punchy, lobbed snowball at one point that gave me a much-needed jolt awake). The set-piece climax, with its leaping from tower to tower, is a touch too close to gravity-defying, Stephen Sommers–style acrobatics to be dramatically engaging, and there’s something a bit off that Belle, who was happy with a simple life (as long as it was a well-read one), and stated at one point that she was not a princess, should be ushered into a life of refurbished opulence. But then, they love all that, don’t they, Disney’s legion of little princesses?


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

We’re looking into a possible pattern of nationwide anti-Catholic hate crimes.

Vampires aka John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter limps less-than-boldly onward, his desiccated cadaver no longer attentive to the filmic basics of quality, taste, discernment, rhyme or reason. Apparently, he made his pre-penultimate picture to see if his enthusiasm for the process truly had drained away, and he only went and discovered he really enjoyed himself. It doesn’t show. Vampires is as flat, lifeless, shoddily shot, framed and edited as the majority of his ’90s output, only with a repellent veneer of macho bombast spread on top to boot.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

I admit it. I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.

Videodrome (1983) (SPOILERS) I’m one of those who thinks Cronenberg’s version of Total Recall would have been much more satisfying than the one we got (which is pretty good, but flawed; I’m referring to the Arnie movie, of course, not the Farrell). The counter is that Videodrome makes a Cronenberg Philip K Dick adaptation largely redundant. It makes his later Existenz largely redundant too. Videodrome remains a strikingly potent achievement, taking the directors thematic obsessions to the next level, one as fixated on warping the mind as the body. Like many Cronenbergs, it isn’t quite there, but it exerts a hold on the viewer not dissimilar to the one slowly entwining its protagonist Max Renn (James Woods).

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.