I remember being shocked that there was a nostalgia for 90s music. Like, how could there be? All that music was so horrible. But, that was from an era after I stopped following pop music, while I grew up with 70s and 80s music, and think that 80s and of course 70s music is absolutely awesome. Maybe everybody loves what they grow up with, whether it’s any good or not. Which means that one day, there may be kids who remember loving and being moved by this version of Beauty and the Beast. But that thought makes me sad.
Because while it’s not absolutely awful, this movie makes some quite impressive strides toward it. It is both over-faithful and overstuffed. None of the actors, live or animated, have a chance to make more than an impression, a crime when you have the charming Emma Watson in a role for which simply casting her accomplishes 35% of what the movie must do. And it even wastes that—she is barely a presence, and barely seems alive. Of course, there is perhaps no more than six seconds at any one time in which an actor could act without some digital effect popping or bursting or glowing or jumping or cracking or exploding—or talking or singing. There’s so much that the direction at key moments seems to be “pan from CGI effect to CGI effect.”
The best thing about it is that they obviously know what they have on their hands and are terrified of messing with it. This is why every moment—and I am including every possible aside—is slavishly reproduced here, and often tweaked in a way that ruins it. For example, the feather duster still says “I’ve been burned by you before” to the talking candelabra, only now it’s fleshed out with more surrounding dialogue about the context of their relationship, which we now see fleshed out in new and needless ways, which extinguishes [sorry] the simple humor of the line. Every moment, every gesture, every line of the original is captured and reproduced, which ultimately strangles the movie. It is never allowed to breathe on its own. Added to the original 86-minute running time is 40 minutes of filler, none of which is needed or helps. This includes several new songs, none of which will stay in your mind, and the fleshing-out of every possible detail, most of which you didn’t need to know.
Surprisingly, even the original songs fall flat. They are a mixture of the same beats—even the exact same shots as the cartoon, made live-action—and incomprehensible added beats—an instrumental bridge thrown in here, an added percussion bit there—that rob the songs of the momentum they originally had (and, like, HOW could you ruin the Gaston song?). The worst victim of this is “Be Our Guest,” which is never allowed to get going and just ROCK, and is accompanied by an odd sequence in which the starving Belle is presented with delicious dishes that are pulled away just as she attempts to eat them. Watson does her best to freeze a “generically delighted” expression on her face, since everything she is supposedly looking at will be added months later. There is so much CGI in the overall film that all of the human actors seem to be palpably suffering from having nothing concrete to act against. Watson especially seems to freeze in fear when she doesn’t have an actual person to react against.
Surprisingly, the all-CGI Beast works well—much better than Belle, for instance—because he is a cartoon in a cartoon world. She’s a real actor in a maze of green screens. But their courting montage is surprising because it highlights how little we’ve seen—or come to know—the Beast. All of a sudden this major character is there, with a personality we haven’t been until now. And the movie suddenly starts to work, in a small way, because we have two characters talking, rather than awaiting the next CGI flourish to delight them. But for the most part all of the characters remain obscure, not helped be elevating all of the minor one-or-two-lines roles to a full-on ensemble.
As for the “exclusively gay moment” (by the way, what does “exclusively gay” mean?) it’s less than nothing. Hardly worth getting banned in Malaysia over. LeFou, who is dancing with a woman, is, by accident, thrust into the arms of a man previously done up in drag. We cut away before either can even react, not finding out if they are glad, sad or indifferent to this development—and that is it. THAT is your big gay moment. Just another overhyped sales point. And again, the concept of “gayness” here means men wearing women’s clothes, and wanting to be like women. It is not possible—and perhaps morally wrong!—for a man to be comfortable in his masculine identity.
Anyway, I see from user reviews that many people are dutifully enchanted, and will swallow what they are given happily. I’m glad for them if they’re really happy, although it’s sad that they’re happy with something so corporate and ultimately piss-poor. But good for them if this is all it takes to please them.