Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (or ‘The monetary value of millenial nostalgia’)

It was with a lot of trepidation that this writer settled down to watch the recently Disney live action adaptation of yet another animated classic. In the end, the 2016 Beauty and the Beast was a tricky tale, displaying small flashes of strength whilst asking the question – is the trend for exploiting millennial nostalgia actually creating anything fantastic?

Many seem to think so. From Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella to the upcoming Power Rangers and Jumanji movies, nostalgia is relied on to be a big draw to the younger generation. Desperate to escape, us twenty-somethings are keen to relive our best childhood days and in the current climate, who can blame us? The problem is that this trend risks a death of creativity, since studios have very little reason to craft something genuinely original in the face of box office bucks (see also: superhero movies).

This Beauty and the Beast certainly deserves some flack for its inability to stretch. The majority of the dialogue is word-for-word, to the point where I found myself actually mouthing some in advance. In a ham-fisted attempt to pull it off, the writers change out the odd word, but it doesn’t convince, instead sounding odd to trained ears. My favourite appears in the song ‘Belle’, where Le Fou points out that the heroine is so ‘well-read’, instead of the original Gaston interruptions. It’s just unnatural dialogue for the character.

In that same vein, there are large scenes that are shot-for-shot from the original. Most striking in this adaptation was the addition of modern animation that creates a huge amount of the movie, including the surrounding scenery. It’s incredibly detailed but has been filmed in a frenetic fashion, giving the visuals an artificial look that will date badly in just a few years.

Compare that to the 1991 version, which 26 years on still looks as stunning, delicate and revolutionary in its hand-drawn visuals and iconic three-dimensional ballroom scene. It’s not even entirely new designs in this latest iteration either – director Bill Condon appears to have brought in identical wolf designs from his two Twilight movies (don’t think I didn’t spot that, Condon).

The issue of singing is a problem too, as we knew it would be. Emma Watson has been auto-tuned to a shrill neatness, whilst, as promised in press tours, Ewan McGregor does indeed have a very shaky French accent that completely eclipses his wonderful voice.

However, there are a few strengths. Dan Stevens has a surprisingly rich voice, makes an great impression through heavy CGI and finally becomes a very handsome prince. There’s slight bias from this writer though – the human Beast was a Disney hero crush growing up and Stevens looks pretty identical. The Beast has a new song written for him by Alan Menken too, which is surprisingly heartfelt and memorable, definitely in part to Stevens’ performance.

With a longer running time, there’s also a careful choice to give a larger voice to the plight of the characters trapped as household objects. It’s an interesting take, particularly towards the end, although it’s purely a luxurious option due to the spare minutes and A-list ensemble cast – after all, no one was really asking for it.

As is to be expected, Menken’s music is the top highlight. Having composed the music for the 1991 version, his iconic songs still resonate through diminished performances.  That said, is it not a bad sign that the biggest strength of the movie was music that’s already been performed to perfection nearly two decades ago? I’m also sad that the catchiest/most annoying deleted Disney song, ‘Human Again’, didn’t get a chance to haunt audiences’ brains in this one either.

I prefer to stick to my current line of thought – that equally keen to find a youthful escape, I would rather watch something original like the wonderful Moana for lighthearted joy, than I would see a classic rehashed. Having said that, built with our capacity for happy nostalgia, it’s easy to understand why people enjoy these live action remakes. Stubbornly, I’d personally just rather watch the originals for the millionth time to get that nostalgic feeling.