Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s latest live-action adaptation of one of their animated classics, has caused quite the stir in Malaysia, with its status flip-flopping back and forth between banned, shelved, cancelled and scheduled for release! Determined to find out what all the fuss was about, I headed to Singapore, to check it out themselves.
Ignoring any debate over the reasons for the banning/retraction of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast from release, the primary concern regarding any film is whether or not it is entertaining. Remakes have an additional burden of trying to live up to (often beloved) originals. Of the most recent attempts to bring Disney classics to the “real world”, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella left me cold, adding little to the original tale and squandering Helena Bonham Carter. I found Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book far more entertaining, however. Beauty and the Beast fall somewhere between the two.
A curse on both your houses
In the “tale as old as time” a shallow, jerk of a prince is transformed into a beast after refusing refuge to, what appeared to be, an aged woman seeking shelter during a storm. This enchantress-in-disguise also curses his household staff, transforming them into living household items. Only by finding someone who will love him in his transformed state can the curse be lifted. If he can’t find someone before all the petals fall from a magic rose, then he will remain a beast and his staff will become real, un-living, furniture… forever.
So far, so similar. So what’s changed?
Well the songs for one. While the classics are present and correct, with Emma Thompson performing the title theme beautifully, there are a few additional songs written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. They don’t stick out like sore thumbs but neither do they blend in seamlessly with “Be our Guest” or “Gaston”.
Some tweaks have been made to the story, with some additional “magic” added for no apparent reason and the unfortunate introduction of the plague into one character’s back-story. The Beast’s staff have also undergone a makeover. Instead of being appearing as cute, cuddly creations, they are now an Ikea’s worth of nightmare fuel, the designs of Lumiere & Wardrobe/Madame Garderobe suffering the most.
Cold Dead Eyes…
The filmmakers seem to have missed a lesson learned by every animator worth their salt, the eyes are the windows of the soul and lifelike eyes are they key to creating relatable characters. Most of the servants either have cold, inexpressive eyes or else they don’t have any eyeballs at all, the shapes of their faces contorting to give the impression of eyes.
The voice work by Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Stanley Tucci(Maestro Cadenza) and Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) is all fine, but apart from Thompson their voices are unrecognisable until under absolutely abysmal accents. Ian McKellen also feels a little wasted as Cogsworth.
On the live action side of things, it’s a completely different story. Luke Evans is simply amazing as Gaston, looking as if he has just sprung to life from the animators pen, managing to nail the character too, all misplaced confidence, bluster and cockiness.
Belles of the Ball
Emma Watson is a great Belle (and she can sing!) although now she has to be somewhat of a maker/inventor rather than just a “bookish” type, in order to feel ostracised from her village. Kevin Kline sparkles as her father.
As for the Beast himself, Dan Stevens, (most recently seen on TV in Legion), does a decent enough job but he never feels anything more than a particularly pouty special effect. The lighting always seems…” off” on his face, with the effect surprisingly more pronounced in darker scenes. Normally this would hide any flaws in the animation , but this beast looks his best during outdoor scenes when he is fully lit.
Then we come to Josh Gad’s LeFou.
Just Good Friends
Gad provides a great performance, He’s funny and, as we all know from Frozen, he can belt out a tune. The controversy over his “gay moment” however, has been completely blown out of proportion. LeFou is a “flamboyant” character who tends to let his gaze linger a little too long on persons of the male persuasion. That’s it.
Having not been that invested in the original (I would have been a surly teenager when it came out in cinemas), I was lucky enough to watch the film in the company of with two hardcore Disney fans. Hardcore Beauty and the Beast fans, (yes they exist). They reported enjoying parts of the movie, loving some aspects (Luke Evans, “Belle’s dress in the ballroom scene was on point”) but hating some of the additions (a more violent finale, the presence of the Enchantress in some scenes she wasn’t in before).
Their opinions were split on whether they they’d watch it again, but they both confirmed the new version made them they both want to watch the original again. As soon as possible
Beauty and the Beast is an enjoyable musical with plenty of laughs and decent performances in between some bad design decisions and not so great songs that should introduce a classic to a new generation.
Also, it shouldn’t turn you gay.
I’m not sure I’d travel all the way to Singapore to see it though… well, at least not again.
At time of writing Beauty and the Beast will be released in Malaysian cinemas on 30th March, but who can tell if that will remain the case…
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson.
Directed by: Bill Condon
Official Site here.