Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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.

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10 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast (2017)

  1. Your review confirms what I suspected: that seeing this thing would be an excruciating experience for me, loving the original as much as I do. If people are feeling nostalgic, why not just watch the original again? They won’t be sorry they did.

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    • If you love the original (as I also do), I think you would find this pretty much excruciating… They do pretty much hunt down every single little throwaway line you’ve always loved and deliver an individual killing to it. Have you ever seen the Cocteau film? That’s worth a watch, for sure, with some neat analog effects.

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  2. Thanks for this satisfying review posted so quickly after release. Sounds pretty much like what I expected. Of course it’s a huge hit, people have too much money and not enough memory. What do you expect will be the next offering from Disney’s recycle bin?

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    • They were gonn do a remake of Aladdin with a rotating cast of YouTube stars doing the genie, but then it turned out that all the YouTube stars are racist so they canned it.

      Then they were planning a remake of Sleeping Beauty but between Anne Rice fetishist and the Woke Bros Brigade they figured that it would not go well.

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  3. To be fair, the “Be Our Guest” starvation problem exists in the cartoon as well–something brought home to me when I conducted the stage-musical version. During a long technical rehearsal where we rehashed every beat of that song over and over, my sassy gay keyboardist slipped me a note reading, “The bitch goes through ALL THAT and NEVER gets anything to EAT!!!”

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  4. Late to the party here, but a hot take from the animated film’s opening weekend, one with which no one has ever agreed: The gender politics of Disney’s BatB are revolting.

    There was a hullabaloo about how this Disney princess was different – she liked to read! So she’s smart!! Reading might be a quality previous princesses didn’t have, but please. Better literate than not, but there are smarts that don’t involve books, and there’s plenty of reading material out there pretty distanced from intelligence. The tubthumping that this princess was more evolved seemed like overcompensation.

    And overcompensation for what? Well, we’ve got a story about a girl whose father gets into trouble, but he can’t be expected to take responsibility, so she’ll shoulder that. Noble, but irksome. So now she has sacrificed her freedom for the sins of the father, and has to live with a belligerent monster. Sucks. Apart from him, the only other beings she communicates with push her into cozying up to the brute; after all, it’s good for the boorish asshole, and it’s going to make her captivity better, so why not forge intimacy with the jerk? (Can’t remember whether the teapot and clock and whatever else benefited from the spell being broken too … but if they did … gross.) This movie is straight-up Stockholm Syndrome, and tells kids that someone with power over you might treat you like shit so it’s up to you to love them enough so they change. Or, taking your lessons from the Beast, being cruel to somebody is no obstacle to bending her to your advantage later; in fact, she owes it to you to respond to your change of ways, because that’s what true love is made from.

    Haven’t seen BatB since 1991, so it’s possible that I’m missing complexities. Still, it left such a horrible taste in my mouth that I never wanted to revisit. Anyone else?

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    • “The gender politics of Disney’s BatB are revolting.”

      In its own way, people coming to this Shocking Realization now, spurred by the live-action remake, is as saddening as the idea that people might experience the live-action remake first and prefer it to the original.

      Because, again, there it is–Disney BatB and the Baby’s First Hot Take of “the human relationships in that story are fucked up” have been around for twenty-odd years now. Although the suggestion that Gaston is actually the hero is…well, like much else added to the live-action film, it’s poorly sourced, ill-supported by the original text, and seems to have been added solely so that the remake could purport to have something to bring to the table.

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      • Well, I wish I’d known you those twenty-odd years ago … because suggesting what sounds commonplace in your world previously only elicited “I looove that movie”, “It was nominated for Best Picture!”, and looks that said “You are one tragically heartless grouch.”

        You’ve broken the spell I was under, DD!

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