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The UnPopular Opinion: Beauty and the Beast

08.24.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

The recent series of live action remakes of Disney's animated classics is something of a double-edged sword. Disney's legacy is so set thanks to these cartoon features that it is dangerous to veer to far from the source material. Sure, Disney made mediocre reboots like 101 DALMATIANS before ALICE IN WONDERLAND made them a ton of money at the box office, but even since Tim Burton made his 3D monstrosity, the films that have come since have at least offered something fresh to make them worth watching. THE JUNGLE BOOK was a technical achievement, MALEFICENT was an intriguing twist on the classic Sleeping Beauty story, and CINDERELLA was a non-musical adaptation that was faithful but changed things up. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is neither original nor a technical achievement. Instead, it feels like such a carbon copy of the animated Best Picture nominee that one has to wonder why they even bothered making it. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a sterile, safe and not at all special recreation of a beloved classic.

Having grossed $500 million domestically, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST looks like the closest to a sure thing to get a Best Picture nominee at the next Academy Awards. It has the pedigree thanks to both the music from the original film as well as additional tunes created for the Broadway adaptation, it has a huge star in Emma Watson along with an ensemble of revered and recognizable actors like Ian McKellen, Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson and Josh Gad. It also has Academy Award winning writer and director Bill Condon who directed DREAMGIRLS, GODS AND MONSTERS, and KINSEY as well as scripting Best Picture winner CHICAGO. But, also keep in mind that Bill Condon also wrote CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH and directed both TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN films. Everything about BEAUTY AND THE BEAST felt like a sure thing and I am sure the executives at Disney were already counting their money months before the first trailer even hit. The problem is that I cannot figure out why this movie was such a success.

The UnPopular Opinion, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasy, Drama, Disney, Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor

To be frank, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a fine movie. If it were an emoji, it would be the "meh" face. I cannot fault the movie on a technical level because it achieves great special effects with both the Beast himself as well as the various anthropomorphic objects in his castle. However, when you are dealing with a film that a generation grew up with and a musical that ran on Broadway for a very long time, you are stuck in the position of not wildly changing things lest you upset your core audience. Still, the best the writers and director could come up with was a couple of asides that LaFou is gay and giving Gaston PTSD. Both of these ideas have existed since the original movie because audiences inferred it from the events on screen. Now, we are smacked over the head with it and it doesn't do anything to improve the movie. The "controversy" about LaFou's sexuality was barely a blip when it was revealed right before the movie debuted in theaters and it was long forgotten after the first week it was released. Now, this movie just exists and is not a film I would have any desire to rewatch.

Nothing is worse than being forgettable and that is the greatest deficit to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. From the opening prologue showing Dan Stevens turn from spoiled royal to the Beast to Belle's first song, Bill Condon's direction feels like it came from another era. None of the production design feels organic, feeling both overly glossy or an obvious set on a studio lot. Most of Kenneth Branagh's CINDERELLA felt natural because it was filmed on location. Even the CGI-heavy MALEFICENT felt more realistic than BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Almost all of the scenes of Belle's provincial town looks like the backlot sets from musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. That is not a compliment, either. Once we actually get to the Beast's castle, the building itself has more personality than any of the inhabitants. In 2D animation, Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and the rest of the cursed servants have that Disney charm that the animals of THE JUNGLE BOOK have. But, Jon Favreau managed to instil an element of humanity in Baloo, King Louie and the other animals whereas Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan's voices can only do so much to save the somewhat creepy design choices on their transformed appearances.

Then there is the human cast. As much as I love Emma Watson as an actress, she cannot sing nor does she have the spunk that her animated predecessor had. Watson usually has so much more personality and charisma but feels shoe-horned into this character to benefit from her name recognition. Watson's singing voice is so subpar that she cannot hit the high notes that make the songs in the animated film so memorable. On the other side of things, Dan Stevens is an actor who has just recently gained mainstream fame thanks to his roles on Downton Abbey and Legion. He has been a niche actor with great turns in THE GUEST and NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB, but he is buried under a CGI face that doesn't hold up to the practical effects used in Christophe Gans' 2014 take on the fairy tale. With the advances in motion capture, you would have thought the Beast would have looked less like a cartoon. Most of the body work on the Beast is well executed with the face just not working as it should. Luckily, Stevens is a good enough singer that he is able to save what is otherwise a lackluster special effect.

The best aspect of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is Luke Evans as Gaston. On my first viewing, Evans and Josh Gad make a great pair of villains, but they are reduced in impact by giving them additional character development. Gaston is now haunted by his time fighting as a soldier and La Fou is now more than subtly homosexual. Both are plot decisions that would have worked better if this were a movie more focused on that side of things. Instead, their decisions (stranding Maurice to die alone, raiding the Beast's castle) feel like an attempt to make the story deeper than it needs to be. It just doesn't work which is a shame because it wastes a couple of excellent casting decisions. The only really new additions to the Disney film come in the form of songs used during the Broadway musical production of the story, neither of which are large scale enough compared to the memorable tunes and end up feeling like filler for a movie that doesn't need it nor benefit from it.

The UnPopular Opinion, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasy, Drama, Disney, Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor

With the amount of money spent on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the results just don't show on the screen. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is not good enough to be deserving of the critical acclaim bestowed on it not is it bad enough to have been a bomb. But the utterly boring final results released in theaters are an embarassment to all involved. Much like ALICE IN WONDERLAND, critics and audiences will look back on this movie in a couple of years and wonder what the big deal is. Had the 1991 movie never been created, I would have probably been kinder to this production. But, whenever you are remaking a movie as renowned as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, you better have a valid reason aside from just cashing in on famous faces portraying iconic characters. If you want to see a better live action Gaston or Belle, go visit Disneyland and take a photo with the countless actors walking the amusement park. Otherwise, pop on your Blu-ray of the worthy original and skip this take entirely.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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