After nearly three months of successfully avoiding Bill Condon's new adaption of the Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast, I finally gave in. I rented the DVD, carting low expectations and a healthy fear of being proved wrong, and yet, somehow, the film still managed to disappoint me. So deeply, in fact, that I started making mental notes every time I found myself upset, angry, or just annoyed. Here are just a few of those notes.
Disclaimer: I did not hate this movie. Honestly, I would not be 100% opposed to seeing it again. I think, had I not been thinking of the 1991 film, I might have even loved it. Bill Condon's version never lets you leave that film behind, though, and as an adaption of the original adaption of the fairytale, it fell flat. The original Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie, and Belle my favorite Disney character, so all of my criticism comes from both a place of love and an extremely biased point of view.
1. Emma Watson's Belle.
Some of the acting in this movie is genuinely good, I will give it that. I loved Kevin Kline's Maurice, the brief glimpses we get of Dan Stevens' human prince were some of my favorite his character had, and Josh Gad's Le Fou and Luke Evan's Gaston are a lot of fun to watch (more on Gaston later, though). However, among those performances is a bland, autotuned Emma Watson. Not only is her acting a bit stale, but her performance bears hardly any resemblance to the original Belle. That's not to say she shouldn't have tried to make something new out of the character. In fact, she absolutely should have had her own spin on Belle, since making the movie would be (and/or was) pointless if they didn't have something fresh to add. Instead, her Belle has no substance, lacks much of the nuance that has made Belle such a beloved character, and has about two facial expressions: vague smile or eyebrows pressed slightly together with her mouth half-open. It didn't feel like I was watching a new version of Belle as much as a hollow shell of her.
2. Belle's first conversation with Mr. Potts.
This moment was my first indicator that this version of Belle was going to lack a lot of what made the original special. At this point in the original movie, Belle hears the Baker say, "Good morning," and takes it as an invitation to explain the plot of the newest book she's read, pulling the book from her basket and excitedly forming a run-on sentence as she follows him to his shop window. It is essentially the first moment of characterization you have for Belle. The new movie uses that time, instead, to form an accidental Harry Potter reference in an effort to introduce the weird Mr. Potts subplot, have Belle say "this book" in reference to a book Mr. Potts can't actually see, and let Belle leave after barely touching the plot of said book (which, of course, is no longer "Jack and the Beanstalk," but "Romeo and Juliet," because we can't be too on the nose here).
3. The attempt to "fix" the opening number.
There are a couple moments in this movie that seem like attempts to right some of the plot holes or flaws in the original movie, like Mr. Potts being added in to fix the question of why no one in town seems to remember the prince or his servants, which, while a poorly executed fix, is a fair flaw to want to fix. However, the writers seem to have also heard the unfortunate number of people wondering what about being a bookworm made Belle so different upon reading the original film on the surface level, because the new Belle is no longer wandering through town with her nose stuck in a book, but skipping on rocks, smiling at merchants, and shopping. While the lyrics of the song explain the "odd" way Belle seems to live in her own world, "dazed and distracted" as she maneuvers through crowds with her mind on far off places, Emma Watson's Belle is far too present and altered to seem "quirky" rather than genuinely different, as if this change fixes the question that should have been answered by simply listening to the lyrics. The scene is also more focused on the townsfolk singing about Belle than on actually establishing Belle's character, as the song is meant to do, so the movie essentially loses the entire point of the song and Belle's characterization all at once.
4. The absence of Belle's animal friends.
One of my favorite lines that Belle sings in the entire movie is, "Oh, isn't this amazing? It's my favorite part because...you'll see," simply because of what that last moment, when she stops herself so that she won't ruin the surprise, says about her character. That moment is hit home by the way it is delivered in the original, as she begins the line singing to herself, only to turn to the nearest living thing, in this case a sheep, so that she can at least tell someone about her favorite story. As the sheep run off, she mentions the twist in chapter three and immediately skips ahead, as if she can't wait to see it unravel. Those sheep are replaced by flowers in the new movie, leaving Belle singing to herself and just...closing her book at the end of her verse. The loss of the company Belle finds in animals is seen in the absence of the footrest in the castle and Belle's barely-there relationship with Philippe later on, causing both her character and several scenes, from here to Belle's escape from the castle to the ballroom scene, to lose some of their emotion and charm.
5. Belle, the inventor?
I absolutely loved this idea when Disney first announced it. The way the original Belle so easily plucks the tools her father asks for from his tool box always suggested she was comfortable with them herself, so I was excited to see how a revitalized, literally inventive Belle would use her skills throughout the movie. I didn't love it as much when Belle only used it to do laundry once.
6. Gaston and Belle's first conversations.
"It's not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas and thinking," and, instantly, the audience knows exactly what kind of man Gaston is. When coupled with the way he drops Belle's book in the mud, physically places himself in her path so that she has to talk to him, and holds her at his side until she pulls herself away, Gaston is rendered a completely unlikable facsimile of a type of man every woman in the audience has most likely encountered in her life, an essential element of Gaston's character. The updated Gaston enters after the opening song and...compliments Belle's taste in books. He brings her flowers, offers an awkward, nearly endearing smile, and asks to have dinner with her and her father. While a bit of a jerk, he's not exactly the type of character you see leaving her father for dead or pursuing the Beast later on. It is only after this first meeting that we hear him refer to Belle as prey, and, even then, Belle has no way of knowing the jerk that Gaston really is. Her only clue before he actually proposes is when he walks across her lettuce while trying to console her about the fact that the Headmaster threw her laundry in the mud and offer a bit of backward advice on how to adapt to their small town. Without the context of the original movie, the fact that she is so opposed to him doesn't really add up with their interactions, leading to Belle responding to Gaston's, "I've changed!" with, "No one can change that much," a line that both awkwardly implies a history between Belle and Gaston that we haven't been privy to and contradicts the entire message of Beauty and the Beast.
7. "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere."
Another of my favorite Belle lines, possibly my all-time favorite, as Belle struggles to put into words exactly the adventure she wants to find, since the only adventures she knows are those of impossible fairytales. Though Emma manages to put some semblance of anger into the beginning of the reprise (singing to herself rather than her chickens, of course), once she gets to the top of the hill she simply stands there, her arms dead at her sides. Emma can't exactly carry this role on her voice alone, so she could at least try to act while she's standing up there.
8. Why is everyone British?
I know at this point in Hollywood, having a British accent means you are from a foreign European country, whether it's France or Greece. The fact that the Beast has a higher voice than his animated counterpart as well as an accent that does not carry the American hard "R," a letter essential to roaring, does not work in his favor, though. He's definitely not as intimidating as I'd like him to be, especially with the gentle CGI baby face they've given him.
9. There's no "Gaston" reprise.
You can't just have some new character say, "Crazy old Maurice," and expect me to take it, especially since this new version of Maurice doesn't seem nearly as "crazy" as the original. Definitely not "crazy" enough to have earned him so much mistrust from the villagers and a trip to the asylum later on, not without Gaston's plotting and prompting.
10. That weird Mrs. Potts moment in "Be Our Guest"?
11. How did Belle know where the West Wing was?
In the original, she hears Lumiere and Cogsworth mention where the West Wing is and sneaks off while they're distracted, lending her character both charm and curiosity. In the new movie, she just sort of wanders up on her own.
12. The new version of Belle healing the Beast.
In the original, the scene where Belle tends to the Beast's wounds is the first time you really see something between the two of them. Belle is the only one able to stand up to him and actually shout him down, the Beast sees that she is more than capable of matching him, and the pair end the scene gently, as she thanks him for saving her life and the tension eases. Rather than let that moment smooth their relationship as it was meant to, the Beast in the new film turns away, refusing to admit defeat, and Belle leaves without dressing his wounds, having to be told his Tragic Backstory by Mrs. Potts to feel any sort of sympathy for him.
13. The number of times the script must have said "fade to black."
While old Disney movies used plenty of black outs between scenes, having so many in a modern movie rather than cuts or transitions begins to feel lazy. There has to be a different way they could have moved between scenes without fading to black so many times.
14. How vaguely similar everything feels to the original.
There are so many lines that have just one word changed or moments that felt like the actors were simply re-enacting scenes without really understanding why those scenes were happening. Every time the movie chose to stick so closely to its roots, it only hit home how hollow and off the film was in comparison. This was where Disney's past live action remakes have found more success, recreating moments but making sure not to follow the exact path of the original so that the remake actually adds something new to the story. Cinderella, for example, is genuinely enjoyable for the most part (and Lily James actually gives life to Cinderella's character rather than draining it).
15. The Beast is a jerk until the library scene.
Since the new Beast is given a loose backstory rather than an actual heart, there's no reason for us or Belle to like or even tolerate the Beast until he suddenly decides to give her the library. In the same moment, Belle suddenly begins to fall in love. There's no build up to the Beast's kindness or to Belle's feelings leading up to "Something There," making the entire love story feel like it just appeared overnight, simply because it's supposed to be there by this point according to the original movie. The film relies on the fact that you know they're going to fall in love rather than actually having them fall in love in any sort of believable way.
16. The ballroom scene being planned ahead of time.
Before the new version of the ballroom scene, the Beast tells Lumiere that he jokingly proposed a dance that Belle agreed to. As a result, the ballroom scene, while beautiful at times, feels formal and rehearsed. In the original, only dinner was planned. Belle hears the violin and jumps from the table to pull the Beast to the ballroom floor, lending the original scene spontaneity, humor, and the joy of watching them test the waters and begin to trust one another in a moment of intimacy that neither of them saw coming. The new version could have at least provided some of that by actually showing Belle jump at the idea of a dance rather than having the Beast tell us about it.
17. Monsieur D'Arque being cut.
The cut "Gaston" reprise is back to haunt this film, as the subsequent replacement of Gaston and Le Fou scheming with Monsieur D'Arque to send Maurice to the asylum with a shot of three men we don't know just staring intimidatingly at Maurice after he accuses Gaston of leaving him for dead leaves the audience without any real reason to feel Maurice is in serious danger. The B-Plot of the new movie is basically just Gaston making it up as he goes, relieving a lot of the weight of Belle seeing Maurice in trouble in the mirror and turning Gaston into a less impressive villain.
18. The majority of the new songs.
This may just be me being too loyal to the original, but, while very pretty, the new songs were mostly forgettable. Only Maurice's "How Does A Moment Last Forever" made me actually feel anything. "Days in the Sun" was a less energetic version of the already cut "Human Again," and "Evermore" is basically a more hopeful version of "If I Can't Love Her" from the Broadway production, far too hopeful for a man who is completely willing to let Gaston, a stranger, kill him without a fight a scene later. I mean, "Now I know she'll never leave me?" He's meant to seem heartbroken, not envisioning a future entwined with memories of her. The tone of the song just doesn't match the actual emotion the Beast should be feeling.
19. Why is the mirror so frosty?
I mean, I know why technically, since it's been sitting in the Beast's frozen wasteland, but when Belle holds the mirror up to the villagers, the Beast is too tiny and frosted over to see! They're all screaming and forming a mob to fight an image I had to squint to make out.
20. Cutting "We don't like what we don't understand" from "The Mob Song."
One of the most important verses in Beauty and the Beast is in the center of "The Mob Song," when the villagers sing, "We don't like what we don't understand, in fact, it scares us, and this monster is mysterious at least." It underlines a mindset that condemned Belle at the beginning of the film, Maurice in the middle, and now the Beast in the climax, and is most likely inspired by lyricist Howard Ashman's own experiences. For the 2017 film, it was recorded, filmed, and eventually cut at the last second. "I liked the scene so much that we actually slowed it down," director Bill Condon told Den of Geek. "It became this creeping thing. [Those lyrics] seemed to undermine the tension.” Though some of the added lyrics add to the scene, the majority of the scene loses tension in being drawn out awkwardly, loses strength in the fact that there are less lines sung in unison by the mob, and loses an important point about the mentality of the townsfolk.
21. Belle using her hair pin to undo the lock.
I do like the idea of Belle saving herself and her father at this point rather than Chip, but this wasn't exactly a creative way of going about that. I was going to complain about this use of Belle's new "inventive" side when she made a rope out of dresses to escape her tower, but let it slide because they were dresses rather than something like bedsheets. The hair pin thing has happened way too many times, though. It happened in Teen Beach Movie, this isn't revolutionary.
22. "It's hero time."
I know it's sort of meant to emphasize his role as the anti-Disney Prince, but it just reads as cheesy.
23. Belle gets to the castle early and does...nothing.
I was so excited when I saw Belle get to the castle earlier than she does in the original, thinking she might actually take an active role in the fight between Gaston and the Beast. Instead, Belle fights with Gaston for .2 seconds and then stands helplessly to the side for the rest of the scene, basically just there for a few reaction shots and to wait for her cue to tell the Beast she loves him.
24. Gaston's ponytail stayed intact throughout the final fight scene.
He only lost a couple strands. Everyone knows the best part of the original movie is when Gaston's hair comes down.
25. Gaston killing the Beast with a gun.
If done right, having Gaston use a gun rather than a dagger could have exposed his cowardice, since he shoots the Beast when he's at a safe enough distance to protect himself and does so from behind, just as the added verses in "Gaston" foreshadowed. Since Gaston looks completely composed when he shoots the Beast, though, the scene only feels more spread out. Not to quote Hannibal, but Will Graham said it best: "Guns lack intimacy." If they wanted to change the scene to inform Gaston's character, it might have worked. In keeping Gaston's role in the scene relatively the same, the film simply detracts from the drama of the final moments.
26. The curse being lifted by the Enchantress.
Part of the reason the end of Beauty and the Beast is so entertaining is the fact that it plays with the standard of early Disney fairytales. Belle rides her steed to the castle to save her prince and wake him from death by breaking the curse, just as Philip did in Sleeping Beauty and the Prince did in Snow White. In this new version of the film, Belle fails to lift the curse. The objects turn inanimate and the Beast remains a beast after Belle says she love him. The curse is physically lifted by the Enchantress herself, who has apparently been wandering around town waiting for the Beast's time to run out rather than using her powers to teach other jerks like Gaston or the Headmaster life lessons, rendering Belle almost entirely useless as the Enchantress decides she is satisfied and lifts her curse. Obviously, Belle's love for the Beast is the reason the Enchantress lifts the spell, but a lot of the magic of the scene and of Belle's role is lost in handing the reins back to the Enchantress.
27. Cut dialogue and song verses being added back in.
There's a reason they were cut originally. Sure, the verses of "Beauty and the Beast" reprised at the end of the film were lovely, but things like the drawn out misspelling of Gaston's name in "Gaston" didn't exactly need to come back. I didn't need to hear Belle ask the Beast to grow a beard, Bill. I really didn't.