Beauty and the Beast

Jill and I just saw the new Beauty and the Beast in the theater.

It was … regrettable. Came across as “an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast starring Hermione.”

The stage musical version of BatB is wonderful, and I recommend you catch a performance if it ever comes to town. It expands on the original by going deeper. The original film has a shot of Belle reading to Beast by the fire; the stage musical explains that Beast never learned to read, and so she reads to him and he loves her stories, and therefore he knows that the perfect gift for her is the library. Every step brings them closer together, naturally, gently. The songs added for the stage musical, especially “Home”, are woven from cues and themes that played as background music in the original.

This film, on the other hand, sacrifices some of the core elements of the original story so that it can pile on some disconnected details. There’s no longer any real reason for Beast to gift the library to Belle, for example (and now he does so as an afterthought), but now you get to meet the enchantress who curses the castle (who happens to look very much like one of the townspeople), and you also get to learn a few things about Belle’s late mother. Are they all one and the same person? Who knows? The film doesn’t bother to explore that.

Three new songs are added to the film, but even though they’re written by Menken and Rice, they don’t seem to fit here. Meanwhile “Home” is tantalizingly teased, relegated again to background music in a scene or two. The final newly-added song, “Evermore,” is just weird. “Even as she runs away / She will still torment me” sounds more like Frollo pining after Esmeralda in the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The original film beautifully contrasted Beast and Gaston – one twisted on the outside, the other on the inside. This film’s Beast is less frightening and more refined all around (and also less physically imposing), while the story perplexingly tries to make Gaston slightly less unlikable by portraying him as a war hero, and shows him actually interested in helping Maurice at one point (if for the wrong reasons). A scene with Beast asking Belle to run away with him is completely nonsensical as she’s still his prisoner at this point. There are so many more secondary characters (Plumette, Cadenza, even a hatrack), but all the playful banter between Lumiere and Cogsworth is gone – there’s less interaction between the two of them than there is between Lumiere and Plumette, and the cruel change of the castle denizens into inanimate objects is the stuff of nightmares.

The sets are obviously all computer-generated and spray-painted styrofoam, looking more like a video game than a movie. Beast also suffers from the same problem that so often plagues the Incredible Hulk: he’s supposed to be large, weighty, massive, and yet he springs from place to place like a flea. There’s no intertia or momentum to him. And most of the castle scenes, especially during the climax, are as washed-out dark grey as the Man of Steel’s Metropolis. I want to say that Emma Watson’s Belle running around the castle was virtually indistinguishable from Hermione running around Hogwarts, except that Hogwarts felt larger, more weathered, more like a real place and less like a set.

So, all in all, I was disappointed. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t think the film stood very well on its own or as a remake.

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