I visited my hometown this morning. I got off the turnpike, made my way across the expressway and ended up at a stoplight I’d seen so many times before. Up to that point, everything looked the same. And then I went into the town itself. That’s when I started noticing all the dents in my vision of what it looked like before. A mirage of what was and what currently is flickered across my eyes, and for a moment I had no idea if what I was seeing was actually there, straining under the effort to impose my memories of childhood onto this unfamiliar landscape.
That same strange feeling came over me the moment I sat down to see Beauty and the Beast. I hadn’t seen the original in some time, and I knew a remake was on its way, but I staunchly refused to entertain the idea of actually paying money to watch it. You see, the classic Beauty and the Beast inhabited such a large part of my formative years that I knew the remake couldn’t possibly live up to my overblown expectations. For a time in my youth, I watched the cartoon on a near daily basis. The remake never stood a chance.
Having said that, I would’ve been more kindly predisposed if it looked like the new movie was trying to tell a different story with a familiar cast of characters. Not so. They opted instead to tell the same goddamn story with almost the exact same scenes, only expanding on things neither I nor anyone asked for. Did anyone care if Le Fou was gay in the original? Well he is, so there goes any attempt to speculate on your own. Personally, I always enjoyed the assumption that Le Fou recognized his slight stature and decided that becoming the most popular guy in town’s lackey was a safe way of staying prosperous without having to do much. But no, a hastily put together romance is clearly better than subtlety. How foolish of me.
Did you know Beauty and the Beast was set in France? Did it make a difference to the original story? Of course not! But since the cartoon came out only 20 or so years before, criticism is still fresh in everyone’s mind, however light said criticism may be. The fact that accents were interchangeable in the original and therefore subject to scrutiny apparently kept these screenwriters up at night, going to such odd pains to settle the logic of this universe instead of, you know, telling a good story.
One of the biggest problems any adaptation of a cartoon is going to have is the limitations of what can reasonably be done. Gaston was particularly disappointing on account of the fact that (while the actor they got is intimidating looking) almost every movement of his in the cartoon was flexing or showing off his impressive physique. Here, Gaston is indistinguishable from the rest of the cast, some even looking larger than him because casting actors is harder than drawing people to fit a theme. His voice, too, is a let-down, since Richard White’s operatic tenor sounded like a manly purr of bravado with every slight utterance. It made his character much funnier and more entertaining than Luke Evans’ whiny gloats. (Credit where it’s due: the song “Gaston” was handled well in the remake).
Come to think of it, no one’s voice is anything to write home about. Adapting musicals, especially cartoon musicals, is always a tricky feat because the emphasis is on a character’s voice (obviously) whereas live-action relies on physicality. The characters more-or-less–with exceptions–look the part very well, but their portrayals can’t compare to that of a medium where the movements are rendered specifically to convey meaning regardless of realism.
Speaking of mishandled appearances: let’s talk about the Beast. What. The. Hell. His body seems more akin to that of a furry superhero as opposed to a genuine…well, beast. He lumbers around, sure, but compared to the Beast from the original, who snarled and paced on all fours and bared his teeth, this Beast seems like a sorry replacement. There’s also the uncomfortable matter of his build. I heard a rumor that Zootopia had characters specifically catered to a “furry” audience, but I dismissed it rather quickly. Now I’m not so sure. The Beast has a very human face, a dark and brooding personality, and prominent muscles defined by his shirts (or lack thereof). This might reflect more on me than the movie, but it seemed a bit too obvious to ignore.
Disney is a business first, as I’ve been quick to remind those who don’t hold my opinion in high regard, and this outing has all the hallmarks of a tasteless cash grab. Like all sub-par remakes, the runtime is bloated to an unconscionable degree, stretching a perfectly tight narrative into a bloated mess, with logical backings for questions no one really cared to have answers for (e.g., the fact that the village had a curse to forget about the castle, the Beast’s daddy issues [a subplot so tedious and unnecessary it’s not even worth getting angry over], and why Belle’s mom wasn’t in the story [she had the plague, obviously]). Side characters like Mrs. Potts and Lumiere are given romances of their own that go nowhere and mean nothing, along with the piano and the wardrobe, who similarly might as well not even bothered showing up for all the sense they make to the plot.
I can go on and on about how useless and ineffectual this entire movie was, but at a certain point the question I asked myself throughout the two hours I sat in the theater had to be leveled against myself: what’s the point? If you like Beauty and the Beast then more power to you. I have my biases but I’d rather this not be the hill I die on. At the end of the day, Beauty and the Beast does very little to distinguish itself as an independent property, which is a shame considering the proud tradition the tale has of being revised over time to fit new audiences.
I expected nothing and I got nothing in return. So be it.