Monday, March 20, 2017

Life's Like a Movie: Beauty & the Beast

Happy Monday!

I got to rush off and take my aunt's children to see Beauty & the Beast! Let's dig in, there's a bit to unpack.  Grab your grey stuff...!!!

Tale as Old as Time

Now, with this film in particular, the same question has come up.  To quote Cogsworth, "If it isn't Baroque, don't fix it!"  Why remake a near perfect film in the first place?

It's a good question, no doubt.  A lot of people are simply chalking it up to the creative bankruptcy of Disney and Hollywood in general.  The answer is more complicated.  We're in the middle of a sort of vicious cycle that's affecting the creative bank of Hollywood, and Disney's no exception.

The problem starts at the movie theater.  The average married couple with 2.3 children (like my aunt), pays a ballpark of $60 to get seats in a theater. And if you think my aunt's ravenous children will see a movie without snacks, you're crazy.  Like locusts, they are! A family night at the movies isn't any less than $100. So families aren't going to make a bet on seeing a movie that they're not sure their kids are going to enjoy.  Hence the glut of remakes, reboots and adaptations.

Now, while audiences won't go for anything unfamiliar (i.e. a safe bet for their children), there is another wrinkle.  Can't Disney just re-release their movies like they used to? Walt had a theory that if you released a movie back into theaters every 7 years, you have a new generation of children to enchant. we've got home video (ok, DVD/Blu-ray.  I'm old, I get it.)  You don't have to go to the theater anymore.  You don't have to endure the families who don't discipline their children and allow them to talk the entire movie...

So, that lets out re-releases. Even a few years ago, Disney attempted 3D releases of Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo. After Beast, Nemo, and Monsters Inc.,they cancelled the Little Mermaid....which made me sad despite the fact that I saw it at the El Capitan in Hollywood for my 25th birthday.....yeah, my 25th....

In a sense, what Disney is doing with, is genius.  They aren't intending to replace the original films. With the new outpouring of merchandise from various outlets, it proves they're as interested in the nostalgia as they are the new film, because it's not just merch from the new movie, but the old.  I'm not saying whether this is all necessarily the most artistic move on Disney's part, but they're working within the parameters they have.

The good...

With a $170 million opening weekend, seems like Disney is making the right move.  Overall, the film  is beautiful and tries very hard to flesh out an original film made in a nine month period, a ridiculously short amount of time for a hand-drawn animated film.

The 1991 original is, without question, a masterpiece.  But as I said before, Disney isn't trying to improve on it, or imply it wasn't good enough.  Nevertheless, director Bill Condon did use the opportunity to further color the characters and modernize the story a little....

If you want information about the making of Beauty and the Beast, I cannot recommend more the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty.  It chronicles the Disney Animation Studio from 1984-1994, including the struggles surrounding the production. So, for now, I won't go down that rabbit hole.

Again, the movie is beautifully and lovingly put together, there is no doubt about that.  The cast is just an incredible mix of people. I mean, who else could have played Belle but Emma Watson? And in this age where there are many polarizing "celebrities", Disney assembled a large and universally loved group.

And, I could swear, there are moments the crew of the film watched the original and said, "Now, people are going to do we make it worse?" In the interest of being spoiler-free, I'll leave it at that.

There were moments, again, no spoilers, where I feel certain there was an intention to re-create the original animation from Disney Legend Glen Keane.  As an animation geek, this kind of thing really hit my heartstrings.

As to the music, I'm glad none of the songs added to the Broadway show made it, but that Alan Menken was brought in to add new songs.  His and Howard Ashman's work truly made the movie (Please see Waking Sleeping Beauty), allowing the music to continue to drive and change the story.

Before we get into the more...critical end of things, I'll just say, if you're going to go, just enjoy it and don't overthink anything.

The Beastly....

Now, for the not-so-good. 

I have to say, if the movie truly failed anywhere, it was in the moments where they tried to re-create dialogue heavy scenes from the original, a little too hard.  One of the funniest scenes in the original is the Beast attempting to bend to Belle as he asks her to dinner...and it just felt as if these actors were trying too hard to make their lines sound different from the original, instead of focusing on the situation itself.  I think another reason for this tended to happen with the actors playing the objects, Ewan McGregor, Sir Ian McKellen, and Emma I'm wondering if the aspect of recording the dialogue somehow stilted the performances...

On that note, I feel the addition of more objects left many well-known and talented actors with less to do than their worth. Sir Ian McKellen, in particular, I feel had a real uphill battle.  And no offense to the masterful actor he is....but you kind of can't beat David Ogden Stiers, who's best lines in the movie were essentially ad libs. 

The film is an additional 40 minutes long, and yet its cast hardly has time to really give it the moments the original had.  Even some of the additional lyrics in "Gaston" were lost to what I felt was a bad mixing moment.  I couldn't understand the lyrics half the time at all. I'm not sure if it's where I was in the theater or what...I'm hoping so. 

And the Controversial... everyone appeared to lose their minds over the fact that LeFou might be gay. 

Let me make this simple...CALM DOWN.
Your kids won't even notice. 

Josh Gad is, on camera, quite interesting, because he really adds layers in his performance to a fairly one-dimensional character.  He's got some of the funniest moments in the movie.  He either worked the hardest to get those moments in, or was just the most successful.  

In my opinion, at lot of these "moments" of concern played out like an episode of Boy Meets World where Cory and Shawn's friendship is at stake as a girlfriend keeps them apart.  The dialogue deliberately veers off into this tone that sounds like a relationship.  It's a nice cheap little sitcom joke, but doesn't lead you to believe anything else other than Cory and Shawn miss each other.  If your kid didn't realize what's potentially up with LeFou...then it's just funny. 

And we're gonna put that one to rest, people! Go have a glass of wine...


The movie, overall, is a great compliment to the original.  Disney's chosen to create an interesting side catalog to its animated classics in live action.  It does not exceed the original, but it wasn't meant to.  It made my family happy, it made me happy.  It was a nice moment to share all together.  That's all it needed to be. 

Oh, one more thing....why did Disney have to use John Legend and Ariana Grande to sing the title song? I'm just so sick of them both.  Celine Dion was fairly new to the industry when she and Peabo Bryson sang the title song in 1991 (and she came back to sing one of the new songs, nice full circle).  The choice of artist is entirely uninspired here....

So, I will leave you with the original version, to make us all happy. 

And if you're in DCA, go check out the preview in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot.

Have a good week, everyone! 

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