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.

When did we forget the purpose of film criticism?

There’s been a distinct change in recent years in the attitude towards film reviews throughout the internet. It’s something approaching toxic, stifling the idea that reviews can hold a unique opinion and instead holding them to an invisible choice between ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

Take for example, Empire magazine’s recent reviews. On of their staff writers, Dan Jolin, gave the recent Independence Day sequel a controversial 4 stars. I say controversial – it really shouldn’t have been- but it’s indignantly mentioned in the comments as a comparison on almost every review since.

The idea that Empire could praise what was commonly regarded across Twitter, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb and the majority of critics as a bad film was instantly named as wrong. Some stated that they wouldn’t take any reviews by the magazine seriously, whilst others named potential financial motives as being the reason behind the positive rating.

What these people are forgetting is that a film review is an individual opinion. The conspiracy that Empire magazine is run as a single entity that breathes one opinion is entirely untrue- instead, it gives voice to great writers who can offer their own perspective on the latest screen releases. These reviews don’t have to echo the general opinion that the internet feels entitled to hold.

Lets look at the situation from a different angle. Everyone has their guilty pleasures – I for one, will defend a multitude of bad movies to the death, including Princess Diaries 2. Many hold the opinion that it’s a poor film, and perhaps objectively from a screenwriter’s perspective, it is. That doesn’t make me a bad critic.

So while it’s easy to laugh sarcastically and instantly dismiss the movie, if I were to review the film, my job would be to show you why I enjoy it. It would touch upon my favourite aspects, from the tiny, multi-faceted background characters that Garry Marshall peppers his films with, to the scene of screen legend Julie Andrews singing for the first time since the surgery that almost took away her voice.

That is the main goal of film criticism, to listen to a different perspective explain the quirks and features of a film. It doesn’t necessarily have to agree with the ‘common consensus’, it just needs to convince you why the writer feels the way they do, whether they enjoyed it or didn’t, and ideally in an entertaining way.

This very fact is the reason why the best film reviewers of the last few decades have had their own distinctive voice and character, from Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael to Mark Kermode. Every film reviewer needs to be proud in their opinion, know where it came from and occasionally be willing to revisit it as their own personal outlooks change. After all, film reviewing is so personal- often the watching experience will be affected by the person’s own life experiences and views.

It’s a pity then, to see people on the internet vociferously criticise magazines and reviewers for holding a view that they don’t think matches public opinion. Empire isn’t just a single entity but gives voices a place, and this applies to single film critics with their own site too. Their opinion should always be an honest one, since they shouldn’t be catering to the views of readers.

Where has this attitude come from then? My theory is the prevalence of film reviews on social media, where the ratings and opinions that shout the loudest come to be seen as the unwritten judgement on which all other reviews should be judged. There are so many opinions out there but instead of promoting a host of differing views and well written perspectives, people band together to find like-minded shouters. The worst of this is that it’s not even promoting open-minded discussions that reviews should, just back-slapping affirmation.

If I sounds grouchy, then I am. I’m tired of seeing unique opinions being shut down by the mob. If this continues, it’s going to kill film reviews and risk turning the entire industry into a crowd of parroting voices. That’s not what it’s about. Film critics, embrace your opinions. They’re not controversial and there needn’t be such a thing as a ‘general consensus’. Find your voice and be proud in your writing – we need your untarnished views.