As much as I’m in love with the idea of Disney translating their animated classics into live action, things kinda got off on the wrong foot with Alice in Wonderland. Which was kind of a bummer for me ‘cause it was directed by one of my favourite directors, Tim Burton, and had an amazing cast that included Alan Rickman, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter among many other. But what really bummed me out was not that it was a bad movie…
It was just a pointless one.
A sort-of-sequel to the original animated film, it was made in the vein of a remake-sequel (e.g., Superman Returns, The Force Awakens) but did almost nothing to actually progress the “Aliceverse” so to speak.
Thankfully, Maleficent kinda put things on track, and Cinderella was a lot more hit than miss, and The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon were nothing short of great adaptations—not just remakes. Unfortunately, Beauty and the Beast slams things right back into the Wonderland of pointlessness.
While Beauty and the Beast does a lot of things right—great cast, fantastic choreography, an openly gay character—it fails to do one very important thing: justifying its existence.
The strength in both Maleficent and Cinderella was how they not only remade the originals but also added new dimensions to the content: the entire point-of-view in Maleficent, a larger impact of participation for protagonists in Cinderella. And while Beauty and the Beast begins like it might do just that (like addressing the issue of Belle’s mom), it quickly winds down into what feels like a scene for scene remake of the original.
This issue somewhat extends to the cast as well — yeah, I’m aware I referred to them as a great cast, but the problem is that this great cast doesn’t do very much to rise differently, if not above, the original. With names like Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and Ewan McGregor, it feels almost like a let down that they were only as good as the original. Not that being as good as the original isn’t in itself an achievement, but with talent like that, I’d at least expect something, well, different.
On a more positive note, a recurring point of contention has been the cast’s singing, most notably Emma Watson’s. The good news is that it’s fine. Not great, but fine.
Thankfully, the more iconic numbers are covered by slightly more capable talents, but as a believer that the musical element here is in support of the story and not the chief medium of the movie, I’m perfectly fine with the performances not being pitch perfect. (That was pun perfect, though.)
Special mention goes to the Luke Evans and Josh Gad led Gaston which is as catchy as the original and possibly more memorable in live action. And Be Our Guest is quite possibly my favourite sequence in the movie, blurring the edges between the original and remake.
Ironically, it’s Ariana Grande’s and John Legend’s travesty of a cover of the very iconic theme song that destroys any illusion of a fairy tale as it mars over the credits. And it doesn’t help that this is immediately followed by Josh Groban’s Evermore, quickly making it clear that the former number could have been salvaged with him and a more mature singer like Aguilera.
While Emma Thompson’s cover of the Angela Lansbury version was apt, the pop duet take proves that no matter how many times Ariana Grande is invited to do Celine Dion impressions on Jimmy Fallon, aping is not quite the same as being equal. And I’m not sure if John Legend was even aware that he was recording what would be an actual product, not just running through a tune to get rid of an earworm.
A highlight of the soundtrack would be a new song composed by Alan Menken, the composer of the original animated movie, and sung by Lady Dion herself: How Does a Moment Last Forever.
While Beauty and the Beast certainly proves that Disney’s efforts in these live action remakes might be done more for the sake of it as opposed to an actual desire to have a unique take on things, at the very least it’s a clear and coherent attempt that doesn’t change things up for the sake of it.
Personally, I hope they nail the formula before doing Mulan and, eventually, Aladdin!