Before we even discuss Beauty and the Beast, let’s get one thing out of the way: La La Land wouldn’t work with great singers. This is an important point, because La La Land will inevitably be blamed for poor musical casting from here on out. But that’s unfair. The fact that Emma Stone & Ryan Gosling aren’t the best signers is the whole fucking point. They’re intended to sound inexperienced and vulnerable. The movie’s lesson is not to give up on you dreams, even if every other actor in the waiting room is better-looking and more talented than you. If Mia & Seb broke into song and were suddenly super-confident and experienced singers, it wouldn’t work. The filmmakers, intentionally, DID NOT USE auto-tune for this very reason. No one is trying to mask their singing abilities. It’s intentional. So, if you’re one these idiot-assholes who keeps knocking La La Land for it’s lack of singing talent… well, you just get it. Whatever.
THAT BEING SAID…
La La Land does not excuse this behavior in Disney’s latest live-actions remake or any other musical. The fact that Emma Watson sounds flat and auto-tuned is egregious and unacceptable. It’s simply inappropriate for a traditional musical. There’s no intention. There’s no justification. She just sounds bad. I applaud her for her performance. It’s not her fault. She gave it her all and I respect her as an actress. Does she sound better than the average laymen? Sure, I’ll grant you that, but she’s not on a level that’s permissible for a one-hundred and sixty million dollar movie. No matter how talented and beautiful she is (and she’s both), you need to cast talented singers for a musical. Period.
But the musical numbers aren’t the only problem. The movie feels like it has a crisis of identity. The new elements that work feel undeveloped and buried under the obligation of hitting all the original movie’s beats. And the new elements that don’t work, feel tacked on and lack intention. There’s a whole subplot involving Belle’s & the Beast’s mothers that amounts to, well… absolutely nothing. It’s hilariously bad writing, like the scene in the horse carriage when Belle resolves her mother’s death with Maurice. She forgives him for taking her away from Paris after her death, but earlier in the movie the two didn’t exhibit any real conflict around this subject… so why are we resolving conflict that didn’t exist? I understand she had questions about her mother, but what the fuck does this have to do with the rest of the story? It doesn’t inform her relationship with The Beast in the slightest. Even some of the smaller additions aimed at “fleshing out” the characters—like the quick note of Gaston’s war history—add nothing. The idea of Gaston fighting battles in the French & Indian War (assuming that’s the war they’re referring) is pretty cool. So do something with that! Rework the character. A quick aside doesn’t do anything to add complexity.
And it’s not just the writing that’s lackluster, the execution is even worse. In all the key scenes there’s a palpable sense of laziness. You can imagine the Disney execs watching lackluster dailies thinking “whatever, the audience knows how this goes.” In the original (which was one of the few animated movies nominated for Best Picture, because it was that good), Belle decides to take her father’s place in the castle dungeon. This happens in the remake too, but it’s rushed and lacks drama. In the original there’s a pause—a character moment—where we see on Belle’s face that she makes the decision, and then suggests it out loud. It’s a big moment in the movie (and for her character); and it’s treated as a full scene. In the remake, Stevens’ Beast is one who suggests it, almost immediately after entering the scene; as if her decision a forgone conclusion. They just fly through it. Beast sort of spurts out “hey so like.. you wanna take his place, or….?” (I’m paraphrasing, fuck you). Seemed like the cast got drunk the night before, watched the animated film, and were trying to recall the scene’s beats through a hangover haze.
The same is true of the “Be Our Guest” number. It sort of just… happens, like it knows it has to (and way too quickly). There’s little drama to justify it. The characters lazily mention that they have to feed Belle, but it’s in such a going-through-the-motions way, that we don’t feel any tension surrounding it. Movies are about characters making decisions. And good drama focuses intently on those decisions and their implications. But fuck it , right? You know the story. You’ve seen this movie before. You’re just here for the songs. Fuck you.
And look, if that’s how you want to be treated as moviegoers, fine. Get on your knees, open wide, and let Mickey jizz away. But I’m a pretentious asshole and I demand a movie to make some fucking effort. Treat the material as NEW if you’re going to remake it. Breathe new life into it. Don’t just slightly remix the scene, lose all the tension, and hit the general beats. If you’re going to—literally—make an almost scene-for-scene remake, then you have to do each scene justice by either matching it or topping it. If you can’t do that, then abandon the scene-for-scene remake and approach the material fresh.
But we know they’re not going to do that. And I don’t blame Disney. Disney’s not the problem, we are. Not because we show up, but because we keep going back. We’ve lost our good taste in movies. The critics gave mostly favorable reviews (70% on RT, really?). Stop awarding safe movies. Sure, it’s competent enough that it’s not total garbage, but it’s fucking lame! Isn’t that worse? And look, I get it. If I was a big-time Hollywood director, and I walked into Disney, pitched an intelligent Beauty and the Beast reimagining that cut the songs, reworked the story, and changed the character roster; I’d be laughed out of the room.
When I suggested to those disenchanted by this movie that Disney should have cut the songs, and by doing so, freed themselves from the shackles of a scene-to-scene remake, they look at me like I have three heads. “You can’t cut the songs,” they say. Fine, then this is what you’re stuck with. Could the movie have been completely reimagined while maintaining the setlist? I dunno, maybe. But it’d be a lot harder. And you might have to cut a few of the weaker numbers. And why are the songs sacrosanct? You already have them in the original animated film. Don’t you want a remake that’s a new experience? A worthy companion to the animated film (and the countless previous retellings) that inspired it? Or do you just want to row a shitty canoe down the nostalgia river bend? Disney certainly thinks that’s all you care about.