Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Beauty and the Bleh!

I originally wanted this rant to be about the Oscars. However, aside from them being a soft-spot for me, this year’s ceremony was actually quite pleasant and a nice distraction from the grander situation of the world. Besides, my thoughts can be summed up as follows: the awards ceremony is all opinions. The Academy has its share of problems, but whining about the winners is like getting mad that you lost at the racetracks. It’s pointless and petty.

Anyway, let’s talk Disney.

I have a love-hate relationship with Disney. On one hand, I respect much of their output, past and present, and think they’ve been taking a lot of long-overdue risks lately. On the other hand, they’re not only the equivalent of an artistic slot-machine, with their output of being all-over qualitatively, but they like milking properties for all they’re worth. Take their recent decision to remake all of their animated films in live-action. For a while, the results were ghastly, which made me sad. But recently Disney’s decided to interject their post-modernist trend into more faithful remakes, and the results have been solid. Cinderella was mostly on-par with the 1950 classic, but part of that was because of Kenneth Branagh’s directing. The Jungle Book, however, was awesome, while Pete’s Dragon managed to surpass its predecessor by sheer fact that it was competent.

The success of Disney’s crop of “literalist remakes” has opened the doors to a flood of prospects, some hopeful (Mulan) and others questionable (Aladdin). However, none are more peculiar than the one slated for a release in a few weeks, aka Beauty and the Beast:

Beauty and the Beast: The Abridged Series. (Courtesy of Disney Movie Trailers.)

On one hand, this is unfair. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite Disney movies, let-alone one of my favourite animated films. It was the first animated movie to earn a Best Picture nomination at The Academy Awards in 1992, and has remained one of three to ever receive that prestigious honour. The soundtrack is one of Disney’s finest. Even outside of Disney being on a role lately with their remakes, making this work would be difficult for anyone!

On the other hand, it’s not impossible. The trailers have been decent, with each one seeming to capture what made the original special. The casting has been spot-on, and Emma Watson seems to be giving it her all as Belle. The effects have also, not surprisingly, been strong, with the character designs translating nicely into CGI. Despite my reservations, I’ve kept an open-mind…until now.

See, Disney’s been releasing some clips to entice viewers. Call them “appetizers”, I guess. So far two have caught my interest, and to describe them both in a word would be…meh. However, to properly understand, I need to show them to you:

Oh yeah, this is a musical… *Yawn* (Courtesy of Disney Movie Trailers.)

Right away, we can already see the problem: the songs. The choreography isn’t bad, nor is the song, but it lacks…oomph. It’s as if everyone’s daydreaming their way through their lines. It doesn’t help that Watson, despite being the most-committed, lacks the excellent vocal chops of Paige O’Hara. It’s a shame because her voice isn’t bad, but it’s not instantly melodic. O’Hara had the instant one-up of bringing dimension to an admittedly-one note character, and it’s almost unfair to compare her to Watson.

But I have to, because the scene calls attention to itself. It’s trying to match the kinetic energy of the opening number from the 1991 film, and it’s failing. The crowd looks bored, the actors and actresses are putting minimal effort in, even Watson, like I said, can’t keep up with what’s expected of her. And, lest we forget, the rapid succession of gags from the 1991 film are absent. Animation thrives on the speed of jokes in ways that live-action can’t possibly achieve, meaning that every second can have a gag without you even catching it initially. I wasn’t fond of every attempt at humour in the original, but it was still trying.

Yet the problem repeats itself with this number later on:

Man, what an empty scene! (Courtesy of Disney Movie Trailers.)

Someone I follow on Twitter put it best: there are more people in this scene than in the original, yet there’s far less energy. Because it’s true. Ignoring that Josh Gad is a better Olaf than a LeFou, and that Luke Evans lacks the baritone pipes of Richard White, there are next to none of the great gags from the original. “Gaston” was a vanity number, yes, but it had some excellent visuals to compliment some of the lines. I appreciate the neck snap in the remake, that was funny, but without Gaston’s egg trick or belt snap it’s…empty.

On top of that, again, the number lacks energy. There are more people this time around, but, like with the previous clip, they look and sound unenthusiastic. They come off like they’re mumbling their lines, and that Gad can’t even keep up with the music is embarrassing. Where’s the effort? Where’s the fun? I once saw a Purim play at my synagogue that spoofed this song in its opening…and it still had more energy!

You see my problem? I don’t want this to fail. And it’s not like the rest of the movie will automatically suck, because it might not. But I’m not looking forward to this. I’m dreading the idea of this remake more and more, wishing that Disney had gone with The Black Cauldron instead. Even The Jungle Book, which also had musical numbers in it, had way more energy, and that remake didn’t need songs! If a more conventional, live-action remake of a Disney classic can’t get its songs right, then what hope do I honestly have?

Maybe I’m being unfair. It’s possible that this is unfinished test footage meant to pull the wool over my eyes. It’s possible that the end-result will be better, and that I need to watch the movie to really appreciate the cues. But for now, colour me unimpressed.

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