Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The opening of Disney’s live-action adaptation of its animated Beauty and the Beast tells you everything you need to know about this version. We open with Alan Menken’s familiar opening melody from the animated film, but it’s different. It’s faster, in a different key, and also no longer conveys the intrigue of the animated prologue. It’s there because it’s familiar, not because it fits what is being shown to you in this opening sequence. We then see the spoiled prince as the narration begins. It starts by describing the prince as not only selfish and unkind, but a ruler who taxes the locals to fill his castle with “beautiful objects” and “beautiful people”. All as he primps himself up for a party.

Cut to a very strange sequence that contains the first musical number of the movie. The prince dances among multiple women in white gowns as Audra McDonald sings about the prince choosing which woman will be his “special one”. The song moves faster and faster, the editing gets quicker and quicker and suddenly in comes the enchantress and you’re back to the narration. The scene is acted out with no dialogue, instead described beat for beat by the narration, rendering the acting very unintentionally comedic. Anyway, the curse is cast and the narration continues, specifying that the curse also makes the surrounding locals forget about the castle and its inhabitants before concluding with the famous “who could ever learn to love a beast?”

Everything wrong with this adaptation is right here in the opening. What starts as an interesting deviation is forcefully transitioned into a recreation of the animated version. This can be applied to every single scene or sequence in this movie. This isn’t simply a frame-by-frame live-action adaptation of the 1991 film. It’s a movie that has interesting ideas or parts of ideas that could have led to a wonderfully different yet respectful adaptation. And yet, for whatever reason, the movie is forced to change its new ideas from adaptation to addition. Every new element in this movie doesn’t serve to develop the story, but add onto it. The closest thing that we get to a genuinely different take is Josh Gad’s LeFou, who nearly has an arc about being in denial that the man he’s in love with is a monster. That is ruined, however, by the movie treating this revelation as a harmless joke that the character shrugs off.

It’s really a shame, because there are some great performances in this movie. Dan Stevens’ Beast manages to convey all of the frustration and anger that this character needs, while at the same time being awkwardly endearing once the romance begins. Luke Evans as Gaston is also so charming at the beginning of this movie, that we almost like him when he is first introduced. And despite the aforementioned bungled arc, Josh Gad manages to balance LeFou’s obnoxiousness with his dilemma of loving Gaston quite well.

The rest of the cast are serviceable, apart from Emma Watson, who this movie fails more than anyone. Her performance comes across as her being directed to recreate the very diction of the animated Belle’s line deliveries, preventing Watson from truly making the character her own.

As for the songs, they’re all just… there. This movie’s pacing is all over the place, so there isn’t a single musical sequence that begins naturally. And the newly composed songs don’t click because they happen too quickly to effectively convey what the songs are about.

I desperately wanted this adaptation to be good. Disney’s last few live-action adaptations of their animated films have turned out surprisingly well. But thankfully, we’ll always have the animated film, and no remake can change that.

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