Say one of your favourite singers did a solid cover of a Beatles song. Let’s imagine Adele records ‘Let it Be’. She records it, sings it well. Doesn’t do anything to it, doesn’t re-interpret it… just covers it. You’d hear it, appreciate it, but underneath it all is the fact that The Beatles did it perfectly well the first time around. The thought would probably occur to you that there was no real point to Adele recording it in the first place. The world is neither richer nor poorer for its presence.
You see where I’m going with this? Beauty and the Beast (1991) was one thing. Beauty and the Beast (2017) is… the same thing. Just done with sets and props, rather than with ink and paper.
There is going to be a swathe of live action remakes to Disney animated films coming out. Not out of some kind of cultural or artistic necessity; there is simply money to be made. And it makes sense. Makes even more sense if you can do what Jon Favreau did last year with The Jungle Book and add something to it – some fire, some spirit; take away the more ‘colonial’ aspects of the story and just make it a fun, beautifully rendered tale of a boy and some monkeys, or whatever it was. They’re going to do a live action Dumbo and a live action Lion King, which technically is stretching the definition of ‘live action’, given that both films (especially the latter) will be focussed on GCI central characters.
The thing about Beauty and the Beast is that a) it has a built-in audience who will line up for hours to see it, and b) it doesn’t stray very far from the 1991 animated film from which it was adapted. And this is where things kind of fall apart – not that there is anything artistically bereft from this film, it’s a fine, well-produced piece of work. But having seen the cartoon 25 years ago, this film is in many parts a faithful rendition. A competent, if unnecessary cover version.
And that’s where the problem lies. The most memorable thing about the 1991 version were the production numbers, and here they’re done with great affection and nods to the original, to the point where you see them and think nothing more than it was perfectly fine the first time around. Not Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot Psycho remake, but not far from it.
Emma Watson, she’s fine. You know… fine. From her debut in the original Harry Potter film in 2001, she’s definitely improved as an actor, but that’s setting a *very* low bar. There’s not a lot of range on show here, and one can only assume what kind of auto-tuning has taken place for her to be singing as she does. The Beast is played by Dan Stevens, who is apparently on Downton Abbey. Ewan McGregor adds the most to the film among the off-screen talent. Director Bill Condon handles things like a pro, although some of the editing is choppy and his camera lingers on some odd shots way too long, for what you might only presume looks stunning in 3D, but is fairly dull without the third dimension.
So, a viewer, clearly not the target demo, isn’t blown away. The numbers tell a different story. That’s life, that’s Hollywood.