|Because, as with all great tales that are old as time, it should be.|
With the original being only 25 years old, it's already a relatively up-to-date kind of fairytale. Are the advancements in GCI technology since 1991 enough to refresh the story? Does making it live-action and filling the beloved roles with appealing actors create new worth? Perhaps not -- but that didn't stop the production, so I figured it wouldn't have to stop our enjoyment either. I plunged in opening night with no inhibitions, but also not much confidence in the quality.
The worst thing was the visual effects. The idea was that today we are perfectly capable of making humanoid beasts and talking inanimate objects seem real so they can play believably next to live actors. Now, I have seen Guardians of the Galaxy, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, so I know this to be true; the technology has advanced to the point where its use is practical and able to hold up over time. So, why does the animation of the Beast look so bad? They used mo-cap technology, it's Disney so they should have plenty of money -- yet looking at his face, my mind could never accept it as real.
|Sorry dude but you're just too human.|
It's a mystery because I know the capabilities are there, but besides speculating about laziness, the only thing I can point out is that the facial design was poorly done. Perhaps in an effort to keep the movie PG but seriously the Beast's face was too human and too... pretty. Pointy nose, flat face, and his tiny protruding fangs got in the way and disappeared from scene to scene. So much else was adapted to look exactly the same, and I wish he had been too. At least his face should have had more structure. The one thing the Beast had going for him was Dan Stevens and the moments when you could tell he was somewhere behind all that badly designed CGI, actually giving a performance.
The animate inanimate objects were more successful in that they were not distracting or completely unbelievable, but they still were less expressive than they have been, either as cartoon characters or as portrayed by dramatic stage performers in funny costumes. Overall the special effects wound up giving off a distinct odor of careless minimal effort. Practical effects, sets, props, and costumes were happily not subject to that, and in their splendor, the spectacle thrives.
|And guess who brings the spectacle?|
So I've hit on the worst the movie gives us -- now the best. That, of course is Luke Evans as Gaston. Full disclosure, I may have swooned when he first started singing. He has a fantastic voice with a clear, loud Broadway sound that is perfect for Gaston, and he matched it in his over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance. He was obviously having a blast in the role, and wound up making Gaston as great and as interesting as he's ever been. The downside of this was that he made everyone else look bad. Not his fault of course, and some people managed to look bad without his comparison.
Emma Watson for instance. And I want to be clear that going in I had some hopes for her Belle. I thought she looked the part, and could easily imagine her doing the role justice. However, her characterization of Belle was given very little energy -- Belle's friendly optimism turned to prim politeness and her determined passion to bouts of anger and irritated sarcasm. Her singing was also problematic, requiring auto-tuning, and simply not being as strong as a character like Belle requires. I can only suppose she was cast for her star power and pretty face.
|Poor girl. But my, what a guy that Luke Evans!|
New songs were added (similar to those exclusive to Broadway) and one was a ballad for the Beast. I did not expect that from Dan Stevens and was impressed. His speaking voice was digitally altered to be low and gravelly, but I couldn't tell if the same effect was applied to his singing. Either way, since I couldn't tell, it was well done. As a human he was much more easily enjoyed. He gets a cool opening scene (the movie's most creative expansion) which I was immensely glad to see, but his live-action screen time was still much too short for my preference. His eyes probably won him the role, but hopefully a more widespread appreciation of his talent will be the end result.
Ewan McGregor I had not heard sing before, but he delivered with expected aplomb in "Be Our Guest" and everywhere else. Emma Thompson was also excellently solid as Mrs. Potts, lovely and reliable to the very end. Kevin Kline's Maurice got to sing a little too which was nice. Josh Gad's LeFou was amusing in spite of sharing scenes with the distractingly good Gaston. Hattie Morahan surprised me with her presence. (Period drama fans will recognize her from the 2008 Sense & Sensibility where she played opposite Dan Stevens!) Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald; the cast overall was a plethora of talent, though some were underused.
|Still they had a LOT to do with the movie being as enjoyable as it was.|
Whether or not this remake is worthy must depend on the individual. For some it may be, and for some it may not. I thought it was worth the ticket for Luke Evans alone, but I can't help but notice that practically everything that was good about this movie came directly from the original. It borrowed everything, slapped on CGI paint and considered it enough of a re-brand. When new things were added, they didn't make sense, like the book that can transport you anywhere -- what was that? Expanding with backstory and side plots isn't a bad idea in principle, but it was done only to stretch out the run time, and none of the additions mattered to the plot in the end.
It has its magical moments of singing, dancing, visual splendor, and of course romance, but don't suppose that credit belongs solely to this film; where this new Beauty and the Beast succeeds it succeeds because it tells a good story, not because it tells a good story well.