It’s fascinating when a remake of a very good movie comes along and utterly fails at almost everything that the original did so well. It doesn’t look as good, sound as good, and it doesn’t play as well. It’s a curious artistic failure.
The movie’s problems begin right at the opening with an introductory sequence that falls somewhere between a dramatic scene and a voice over summary of events. It’s filmed in exactly the same way as the rest of the film is. There are no filters applied to the visuals to set it apart from the rest of the film. No sepia tone, no old age feel. That would be fine, if the scene were played dramatically, but it’s not. The same voiceover that’s in the original (almost word for word with some additions) plays over the action. It looks like characters on screen should be talking to each other, but every word they say gets overwritten by the dreamy voiceover playing on top. It’s an overall very odd experience that just feels wrong.
The movie then moves immediately into the action of the story with our main character Belle’s first musical number, and it’s jarring. I don’t know if Emma Watson can or cannot sing, but it’s pretty obvious that Disney didn’t think that she could. She’s autotunned to such a ridiculous degree across almost every note of every song she sings that it’s frustratingly distracting. And, her first number begins with her belting out some strong notes, but thoroughly overlaid with a digital alteration that’s beyond obvious. That’s how we begin our big special effects movie musical, with autotune from our star. Either let Watson’s imperfect voice through or dub her, don’t use autotune, especially not to this degree.
And that stuff isn’t really the extent of my problems with the film. There’s a weird tendency in these films to extend 90 minute films into two hours. The original animated film is a grand 84 minutes long, and this remake runs 129. That’s forty-five more minutes of screentime without really expanding the movie in any significant way. The extensions are a couple of new songs (neither of which are particularly good and don’t hold up well to the original songs that surround them), some backstory about Belle’s mother that really doesn’t deepen her character or provide any further thematic depth, and LeFou.
I’m gonna be honest, I don’t think Josh Gad is particularly entertaining, but Disney seems to love him. Every added bit of screentime to his character LeFou feels wasted and, at absolute best, frivolous. In the original, he’s support to a secondary character, but in this he now has an arc. He starts as Gaston’s lackey, but he grows to reject Gaston and join with the heroes in the final moments of the final battle. In what way does this extend, support, or illuminate anything about the core story of Belle and the Beast? The only way, there is a single way, is to give LeFou a line that makes the irony around Gaston acting like a beast and the Beast acting like a gentleman explicit.
But even with that out of sight and out of mind, the core story feels wrong here too. The scenes (lifted word for word from the original) that lead up to the big musical numbers feel truncated and small. The actors skip through them like the emotional reality that leads up to the music doesn’t actually matter. Some of the music comes through fine (“Be Our Guest” in particular), but there are others that are so mishandled as to border on abuse. “The Mob Song” is cut into three sections, ruining the flow of the number completely as the movie goes through half the song, jumps to other stuff, jumps back for another section, jumps away again, and then jumps back to finish it. The idea is to have crosscutting to enhance a feeling of mounting tension, but the movie breaks that tension every time the song abruptly comes to an end. In the hands of a talented creative team, they would have expanded the song into a medley that included the action in the castle, allowing the song to expand in a far more interesting way.
And, honestly, I don’t even like how the movie looks. It’s extremely set bound and the designs feel overly complicated. I can’t get out of my mind the simplicity of Lumiere’s design in the original when looking at the over-designed monstrosity that the live action version presents. The CGI doesn’t hold up particularly well either. This is a very expensive movie with a lot of money spent across a lot of special effects, and so much of it feels plastic and fake, especially the eponymous Beast.
Overall, the movie feels like it was made by an amateur with too much money and no idea how to fill out the extra minutes. It’s a wild disappointment, and a struggle to get through.
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Quality Rating: 1/4