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‘Beauty And The Beast’ Is A Decent Musical Trapped Inside A Dull Remake

beauty and the beast

There’s no major, heavy-handed flaw that brings down Beauty and the Beast, the latest of Disney’s live-action remakes. Rather, this film falls apart from its own weight of bad decisions, made very carefully to not to mess with one of Disney’s most beloved classics too much for fear of losing the same magic that brought animated films to the prestigious forefront of Hollywood.

The original conception hasn’t changed at all, really. A young, beautiful girl living in a small French village finds herself the prisoner of a cursed prince who was transformed into a beast for being vain. They have to fall in love in order to break the spell, and his castle’s magical servants — a collection of humans transformed into the prince’s belongings in case that wasn’t subtle enough — orchestrate elaborate ways to bring these two mismatched people together.

This is, of course, a remake that feels far more faithful to the word, in that a vast majority of this film is a recycled mess of frames, songs, characters, and ideas that are mixed together with a few more expanded subplots that try to explain the world of Beauty and the Beast better than previous adaptations. For what it’s worth, this is a longer movie that lets the characters breathe when necessary.

The trouble is that Disney’s answer to defending this remake’s existence is by over-explaining the exposition of this world and its inhabitants, robbing us of any nuance or mystery as full character motivations are described by either voiceover or ham-fisted declarations more suitable for a stage play. There’s a good effort here, though, to fix some of the perceived problems of the 1991 adaptation, like toning down the unlikable nature of the Beast earlier and with less violence on his part, so his budding relationship with Belle can be more believable and fleshed out.

beauty and the beast

In a better movie, that might have been enough to give Beauty and the Beast a real purpose for taking a victory lap, as the film also manages to pull off some impressive musical beats that show off director Bill Condon’s best work from Dreamgirls. Sadly, it seems this movie also inherits his romantic habits from the two Twilight films he directed, in that Dan Stevens and Emma Watson (who play the titular characters) are the weakest points of a movie that absolutely relies on their chemistry to succeed.

That’s not to say either performer does a terrible job here. Dan Stevens (Legion, Downton Abbey) does fine work trying to imitate the emotive Beast from the animated film, and it’s not his fault he can’t possibly measure up to Glen Keane’s legendary character. For what the film is trying to be, Stevens does a serviceable job bringing a CGI beast to life under what must have been a huge budget.

It’s Emma Watson (Harry PotterBling Ring) who seems unprepared to carry this film as the heart of its romance. She’s more passionless film critic than audience surrogate, frequently turning her nose to obviously wondrous set pieces and working off of a very limited range of expressions and vocabulary. It doesn’t help that her singing is a bit on the lump side as well, pushed harder by obvious autotune that doesn’t blend well with the superior voice work happening all around her.

Worse, there’s not much done here with the Belle character. Beast gets a new musical number and some chances for identity beyond being mean and clumsy. In this film, he’s a bit of a reader, so he and Belle have something conceivable to bond over. But Belle is a poorly written presence by comparison, often reminiscent of the kind, but independent Belle from the 1991 version without much else to cling to aside from the introduction of a forced backstory involving her life in Paris. None of these threads come together well, making for a more forgettable character than this tale deserves.

beauty and the beast

Still, there really isn’t anything atrociously bad about Beauty and the Beast apart from how tragic it is as a missed opportunity for Disney’s live-action retreads. Rather than upgrade the classic with authentic accents and an updated, more modern story (seriously, there was a great opportunity to pivot the villain, here), the film seems more content on going through the motions as best it can without the luxury of animation to make itself more enchanting. Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) as Gaston is about the only actor who tries to bring some worldly relevance to his role, while still hamming it up alongside the somewhat subdued and one-note LeFou, played by Josh Gad (Frozen).

When Beauty and the Beast does manage to pull off genuine moments of wonder, it’s every bit as likable as its predecessor. But the movie never surprises and it certainly never surpasses what it’s borrowing from. Granted, it’s beautifully realized and the production design is a positive step forward for Disney films, but nothing here is satisfying enough to make up for the fact that this is a revisionist tale lacking true vision.

Grade: C

Extra Credits:

  • I have to be honest, that’s a graceful “C.” I had a terrible experience with this film, despite its high points. It violates the don’t make them want to see the original version during the entire movie rule.
  • Another missed opportunity is in how the original Beauty and the Beast had some progressive flourishes, like how Belle was more interesting than previous Disney damsels.  But this new film does very little to innovate, aside from a more diverse cast and an awkwardly executed LGBT inclusion that seems to forget it exists most of the time.
  • I didn’t have time to get to the rest of the cast, and it’s seriously one of the better aspects of the movie. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere (terrible French accent aside), and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts just to name a few. The film does well to give everyone their moment to bask.
  • Oh, let’s not forget about Sir Ian McKellan, who played Cogsworth. Funny enough, he turned down the role for the animated version.
  • This film was in postproduction for 18 months. And it shows.
  • The ‘Gaston’ scene is the best one, in my opinion. They added cut lyrics from the original to make it longer and edgier.

    Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

    Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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Review: ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ Is Weird For All the Wrong Reasons

alice looking glass review

When I saw the first live-action film, Alice in Wonderland, I found the whole thing sort of…OK.

It wasn’t very good or anything, but the 3D at the time was so stunning, and the effects so magical, it was easy to overlook how off-putting it was to see Alice being transposed as a fantasy hero, complete with a boring, unrelated side plot in the real world.

Over half a decade later, her adventures continue, though not much has changed to the film’s detriment. It seems Disney learned from all the wrong takeaways in that first film’s success, namely how important the Mad Hatter deserves to be in his role thanks to the fact that Johnny Depp is playing him.

Below are my lingering thoughts on the film, but my full review and breakdown is available here.

I suspect that the only people who will care for this sequel are strict fans of Burton’s 2010 interpretation. And I suspect even further that those fans will be mixed on Looking Glass for the most part. Unless you have a sadist passion for seeing the Mad Hatter and Alice embarking on elaborate adventures in Wonderland just for the sake of it, then this entire film will ring as hollow as the 3D.

alice looking glass review

In the review I linked above, I go into detail over why the story and purpose of Looking Glass is atrocious to the point of my stamping it a very low grade (lower than the “C” I would grade Alice in Wonderland). But I glossed over points about the visuals and how the film measures up to the books.

As far as the books go, I’m not very disappointed with how they’ve been adapted, if only because it’s probably impossible for anyone to adapt them faithfully. Carroll wrote them to be veiled absurdist stories that criticized the Victorian Era, so a more modern interpretation suffers a herculean task: how can you use wordplay to capture the spirit of the original while also applying the Carroll effect to current events? If any filmmaker was able to do this successfully, they’d have a masterpiece on their hands. But for obvious reasons, that will probably never happen, at least anytime soon.

When it comes to the CGI, I have little doubt that this will be a splitting point between fans and critics. Some of the actual design and movement of these characters is solid, even compelling at times. My main issue with them is that the existence of the green screen was all too apparent throughout the film, thanks to bizarre hiccups in lighting that contradicted the faces of the characters with their backgrounds. Why some are heralding this as a visual treat on par with this year’s Jungle Book completely baffles me, but for whatever reason, I’ll probably be the minority opinion on that front.

alice looking glass review

So chances are that you’ll enjoy the visuals and hopefully overlook the massive narrative issues that doomed this film for critics like me. Otherwise, you’re probably better off scouring for other, better adaptions of Looking Glass, including the somewhat decent 1998 movie with Kate Beckinsale.

Grade: D


I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Review: ‘The Jungle Book’ Is More Than Just a Pretty Face

 

jungle book review

It’s no secret that Disney has had tremendous success with its live action cartoon remakes, even if they usually come at the expense of better storytelling than what’s appropriated for new takes on Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.

But The Jungle Book, a remake of the 1967 animated classic (well, classic soundtrack at least), is the first of these live-action films to rise above what came before it. It solves many of the issues fans have had with the original for years, even if it does stumble from time to time due to its own limitations.

Directed by Iron Man and Chef‘s Jon Favreau, The Jungle Book is among the most gorgeous movies in recent years, discounting computer and hand drawn animation. But it’s strength really is in how immersive its jungle is without having to computer animate the characters. Granted, the majority of The Jungle Book was made on a computer, and it was filmed thousands of miles away from any real jungle.

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s series of tales set in India (mostly Mowgli’s Brothers like the rest of these adaptations), The Jungle Book is a coming of age story about a boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi), who was raised in the jungle by wolves and overseen by a stern, but loving, panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley).

jungle book review

Unlike past iterations, The Jungle Book fully explores the role of a “man cub” living amongst animals, as he has to familiarize himself with the politics of said society and decide once and for all where he truly belongs. At times, Mowgli is given opportunities to set himself apart for the good of the animals around him, while at other times, his mere presence causes disaster, brought on in large part by this film’s excellent new rendition of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who will do whatever it takes to kill Mowgli before he becomes a true threat.

Like the “red flower” that defines human dominion, Mowgli has the potential for both life and destruction in this world. It’s a simplistic story, but not a thin one, in that Mowgli’s agency as a character provides ample motivation and purpose for the various creatures he meets throughout the film. Making their believability as characters (both visually and narratively) all the more impressive.

The vast majority of audiences will be enamored by the surprising depth of The Jungle Book, but it’s not a perfect film that will convert everyone. There are several scenes that feel aped (no pun intended) from other Disney stories like The Lion King. This film crosses the line from homage to ripoff by the third act.

There is also an inconsistency with how this film deals with the popular song numbers from the animated classic, which were critical to its lasting memory. Only two of them make it into the film, and only one comes off as a harmless tribute. The other is quite out of place and nearly ruins a fantastic scene featuring the well-realized King Louie as an extinct giant ape (Christopher Walken).

jungle book review

Thankfully, nearly everything else in The Jungle Book is extremely solid and even brilliant at times. You’ve probably never seen talking animals appear so convincing and true to life on the big screen, yet so mystical at the same time. And they’re balanced nicely by a set of valid themes that raise great questions for children, such as man’s place in nature and what it means to respect the environment, without putting them to sleep with a preachy message.

Grade: B+

Extra Credits:

  • OK, let’s nitpick. Neel Sethi did a fine job, but at times, his performance was bizarrely over the top, far removed from what you would expect from a boy raised by wolves.
  • I’m not sure where I stand on the film’s intense action scenes. Mowgli is in a constant state of peril at times, and it all seemed rather frightening for a PG kids film. It’s about as violent as something like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for example.
  • I didn’t get to mention Baloo, who was voiced by Bill Murray in what I believe is his best role in years. He doesn’t show up until about 40 minutes into the movie, but his impact on the darker tone of the script is felt almost immediately.
  • I wish I could lend the same praise to this film’s handling of Kaa, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She has a lot of fun with the character, but it’s far too brief to get excited about.
  • Disney has a new opening logo treatment that I hope lasts into future films. It has a unique transition that looks great in 3D, and it’s hopefully not the last we’ll see of this technique.
  • The end credits are also fun to watch, as we see a literal book unfolding one of the dance numbers. I’ve always thought it was weird that these movies are called The Jungle Book rather than The Jungle Movie.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

 

Disney is Making a Live-Action ‘Mulan’

mulan live-action

From THR:

Disney bought a script by writing team Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek that centers on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, the female warrior who was the main character in Disney’s 1998 animated film.

I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. On the one hand, Mulan is certainly a great story that would be served well on the big screen as a live-action adaption.

On the other hand, this will likely be closer to the Disney version of Mulan, which is a story that is completely removed from live-action Disney remakes we’ve seen so far. It’s one thing to make a live-action Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty/Maleficent. It’s another to move away from fairy tale movies and make something that is as historical as it is mythology.

It’s risky, but I would be enthralled if it turned out well. More so than anything they can come up with for their live-action Beauty and the Beast.

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