Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I saw Disney's Beauty and the Beast Remade (but why?)...

Once upon a time, director Gus Van Sant redid "Psycho" in an apparent shot-by-shot, cinematic recast. In truth, the film wasn't entirely a mirror image of Hitchcock's classic, though structurally, it emerged damn close to such. The question naturally emerged: If the remake was to be so near the original, why did the director bother?

In the same vein, one could question the point of Disney’s most recent "Jungle Book"; "Alice in Wonderland; and "Cinderella", though none of these have leaned so heavily upon their animated counterparts, standing as variations on earlier, acclaimed adaptations. However, even with a proven formula established, Disney's executives have decided to take their need for reinterpretation one step nearer that of Van Sant, with a retelling of the 1991 Oscar-winning "Beauty and the Beast": a film some claim to be the studio's all-around best. (For the record, I've always preferred CBS' "B&B" television series based on Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's fable to the competing, animated product, though I realize comparing the two is like that of apples and oranges; but then so is comparing "Psycho" to "B&B", I suppose.)

Now, unlike the "Psycho" redux, Disney's "B&B" has actually gone the stage route and has proven most successful in that format. That makes its re-entrance to film not so far-fetched, but at the same time, as with "Psycho", we’re presented with a lifting of architectural and character concepts that have become so ingrained in our pop-cultural consciousness that a new, cinematic version of them can’t help but feel, to some extent or another, imbalanced.  

Nevertheless, thanks to director Bill Condon, the new “B&B” defiantly exists: not a shot-by-shot remake, but without watching the animated feature alongside it, it might very well come across that way (though, in truth, the live-action edition is bridged by superfluous stuffing). At any rate, depending on a viewer's vantage, the similarities could be good, bad or unnecessary, with the latter most likely holding favor. 

As with "Psycho ‘98", the casting sometimes goes against the grain, if only because the actors don’t necessarily resemble their founding versions, which depending on one's taste, could falter or delight. (Personally, I've always liked Vince Vaughn's casting in the "Psycho" remake, but hey, that's just me.) Actually, in one instance, the innovative "B&B" twist seems most noble in the current climate of acceptance: i.e., Disney's first "openly gay" character, LeFou (Josh "Frozen" Gad), with his sexual orientation insinuated throughout his scenes. On the other hand, this variance isn't radical enough to turn things upside down, leaving the new "B&B" with so few profound alterations as to cause a fair sum of uncanny-valley discomfort. This queasiness might dissipate after repeated viewings, but for now, most of the actors occupying the roles seem simultaneously in tune with their animated characterizations and yet strangely off kilter, even though the performers are clearly trying to make their revised editions lasting, if not definitive. 

In addition to Gad's aforementioned LeFou, the cast includes Belle (Emma "Harry Potter" Watson); the Beast (Dan "The Guest" Stevens); the unjustly vilified Gaston (Luke "Dracula Untold" Evans); Candenza (Stanley "Transformers" Tucci); Cogsworth (Ian "Lord of the Rings"/"X-Men" McKellen); Plumette (Gugu "Jupiter Ascending" Mbatha-raw); Lumiere (Ewan "Star Wars" McGregor); Madame de Garderobe (Audra "Private Practice" MacDonald); Maurice, Belle's dad (Kevin "Silverado" Kline); and Mrs. Potts (Emma "Dead Again" Thompson). Indeed, an impressive ensemble, but didn’t we meet one of equal (or rather, unequaled?) caliber in the ’91 version?  

As another questionable plus, the sets and choreography are splendid in their carryover context: in fact, at times as good as one could hope, and perhaps in this respect, some of that uncanny-valley awkwardness becomes less apparent along the way, but there are still times when even the most presentable traits can feel overstressed, as if trying to prove an unnecessary point. To counter these forced elements, the Alan Menken and Howard Ashman score is at least as smooth as what we've come to know and love, featuring such favorites as "Be Our Guest", "Bonjour" and the "B&B" theme. Yeah, sure, the soundtrack still enchants, but then why the hell wouldn’t it?

Again, the persistent problem is the wavering sameness within the overall newness: a nagging tottering that makes one wish to see everything slip back to animation or maybe head toward something boldly altered. This live-action "B&B" tugs at both ends, and that makes the movie the oddest anomaly since Van Sant’s “Psycho”, for it's cursed with the same confounding contradictions. ("Jungle Book", for example, could at least escape this trap with its wilder-than-life landscapes, beastly visitations and truncated simulations of song-and-dance sequences.)

Despite its unavoidable hindrances, "B&B" is already drawing big bucks, and as it does, Disney's executives will assess which next to dance down the live-action aisle: "Bambi",  "Dumbo", "Lion King" … "Robin Hood".  Now, wouldn’t these be a sight to see, or would they? The personas wouldn’t be rendered via traditional, "Planet of the Apes" type make-up, but rather CGI, and with CGI being basically another fanciful form of cartoonery, well…again why bother? And isn’t that the drawback of any such endeavor? 

Sure, it never hurts to see a new version of an old favorite, but if the demand is that great for a faithful-to-the-core revisit, why not opt for a theatrical re-release or if need be, travel the sequel/prequel route? Hey, it worked for "Sleeping Beauty", right? Okay, maybe not. Perhaps when all is said and done, there are simply certain things so iconic in their beloved designs that it's best to leave well enough alone, no matter what the intended extension or potential ticket sales. Uncle Walt (God bless him) understood this, but obviously not Disney's Van Sant disciples. 


  1. For the record, I must say, I thought Luke Evans was top-notch as Gaston. He gave the character the right honor and class. I always felt Gaston got a bum rap in the original, Disney "B&B" and I think the same applies to the remake. Evans' sensitivity shined through in a number of scenes, such as when Belle initially (and so pompously) rejects him and when Maurice snaps at the poor bloke in the woods. Gaston was there to help the fool find his daughter. So what if he expressed his hope to marry her? Is that a crime? I'd have shackled up the old geezer as well if he had berated me in such a damn way.

    1. In all seriousness, though, there's an odd assessment of right and wrong in Disney's "B&B", which goes back to the original film. Punishments don't necessarily fit the crimes, or more precisely, why do some get punished in certain ways and others don't? How can one honestly say that Gaston is any better or worse than the Beast when the Beast is at his most beastly (and that's probably before his transformation)? Think about it.

  2. With the home-video release of the live-action "B&B", I was compelled to write a sequel review, in defense of Gaston. Lo and behold, others have catered to the topic already, for both the original and remake.

    As a fine sample of the probing concern for Disney's most misunderstood antagonist, check out...