BEAUTY AND THE BEAST review

And the live-action Disney remakes just keep on coming.

How many does this make now? MALEFICENT (2014), CINDERELLA (2015), two Snow White films – actually, neither of those were Disney, so never mind – PETE’S DRAGON (2016), kind of, and due out later this year, THE LITTLE MERMAID (2017)? Among others that I haven’t heard of. Some of these have been good, some have been mixed, and some have been bad. The classic animated films are hard to beat, but it’s hard to deny the effort put in to updating them. Now we have the latest attempt for arguably their most well-known classic that was nominated for Best Picture, back in the day.

This, to be fair, looks promising and faithful to the original, but I can see where the skeptics are coming from when they say that this doesn’t look any different from the animated version. I guess we’ll see.

It’s an ensemble cast, so let’s get started. Starring, we have the ever inspiring and talented, Emma Watson (the Harry Potter franchise, NOAH [2014], THIS IS THE END [2013], and the upcoming THE CIRCLE [2017]). Arguably the most successful of the Harry Potter alums, as well as a frequent soldier of feminism, she’s undeniably a great and talented actress. While she’s not the name that automatically guarantees my butt in a theater seat, she’s always a welcomed talent. I probably say that a lot, don’t I? Oh well. Next up is Dan Stevens (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 3 [2014], A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES [2014], TV show LEGION, and the upcoming COLOSSAL [2017]). I’m not familiar with him, but I guess I will be now. Among many others, we also have Luke Evans (THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN [2016], THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES [2014], and FAST & FURIOUS 6 [2013]), Josh Gad (A DOG’S PURPOSE [2017], THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE [2016], and FROZEN [2013]), Ewan McGregor (MILES AHEAD [2016], the Star Wars prequels, and TV show FARGO), and Emma Thompson (BRIDGET JONES’S BABY [2016], SAVING MR. BANKS [2013], and MEN IN BLACK 3 [2012]).

Now for the crew. Helming the film is Bill Condon, known for MR. HOLMES (2015), THE FIFTH ESTATE (2013), and DREAMGIRLS (2006). Co-writing the screenplay, we have Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Chbosky is known for THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012), RENT (2005), and TV show JERICHO, and Spiliotopoulos is known for THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016), HERCULES (2014), and BATTLE FOR TERRA (2007). Composing the score is Alan Menken, known for TANGLED (2010), and… oh wow, check this out. He also did the score for the animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991), THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989), and is slated to compose the score for the upcoming live-action remake of THE LITTLE MERMAID (2017). Dude, that’s so cool! Finally, the cinematographer is Tobias A. Schliesseler, known for PATRIOTS DAY (2016), LONE SURVIVOR (2013), and BATTLESHIP (2012).

Overall, this looks like the same movie I’d seen before. It doesn’t look bad, but it looks suspiciously too similar. I can’t say I’m not looking forward to this, but I’ll just have to wait and see.

This is my honest opinion of: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

(SUMMARY)

Years ago, a selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) was cursed by being transformed into a monstrous beast. In the present day, the nearby townsfolk have since forgotten the Prince and his castle and moved on with their provincial lives. Only one seems to stand out: Belle (Emma Watson). She’s considered odd among the villagers for being literate and takes pride in her ways. Few have caught her eye in an affectionate way, except for the town war hero, Gaston (Luke Evans). About as  egotistical and self-centered as they come, he wants nothing but Belle’s hand in marriage. But of course, Belle wants nothing to do with him; but to live in peace and find more to her life than what’s been given. However, one fateful night as her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) goes to the city, he encounters wolves that chase him off the road, where he finds the hidden castle. He attempts to stay in shelter, but he discovers that the castle’s former servants had been turned into living common household items and runs out frightened. But he’s captured by the Beast and held prisoner. Belle sets out to find her father and soon encounters the Beast as well, trading her freedom for her father’s. Soon begins a tale of romance and redemption that will become the beloved tale that’s as old as time.

(REVIEW)

Oh boy, I can just see it now. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before!” “It’s utterly pointless!” And… it’s hard to argue that. As in, I don’t think it can be argued. There really isn’t anything new in this movie and what is new is useless to the overall story. Having said that, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself and didn’t have a big ole smile on my face for much of the runtime.

Let’s start with the most glaring problems with the movie: the expanded stories.

Now, I won’t pretend to have seen the animated film in recent years, but I like to think I remembered enough. So if I’m not mistaken, the opening for animated film was basically a two minute intro, explaining the prince and his selfish ways, the curse placed upon him, the rose, all that stuff. But it was explained through glass imagery. In this one, its intro takes up maybe ten minutes! What did they do with that amount of time? Tell us the exact same thing that the animated movie did with a fraction of that time. You see the Prince in his silly make-up, the rich-people parties he threw, the enchantress that disguised herself as a peasant woman trying to find shelter out of the storm, only to be turned away, and then she turns him into the beast, and oh my lord, get a move on, already! If no one knows this story, which, there will be kids out there who don’t, they don’t need everything acted out. Just give them the bare-bones basics and that’s all anyone will really need.

Also, the enchantress was little more than a mention in Disney’s original. In this one, she’s given a full-blown character. Eh… sort of. Imagine for a moment that Cinderella’s fairy godmother did nothing more than show up, said nothing, waved her wand, and sent Cinderella on her way to the Prince’s ball, except instead of showing up for one scene of saying nothing, she shows up twice to say nothing. That’s the enchantress. What is the point of having a new character in the mix if nothing is going to be done with it? She has no voice, no character, no nothing. The whole purpose of a remake is to expand on and or add on to what is established that provide something more interesting, or deeper insight into the characters or story. Instead, everything that’s new serves no purpose other than fluff, and remakes of this caliber deserve better than that.

I’ll swing back around to the add-ons in my spoiler section, but let’s move on.

There’s also a few oddities that weren’t updated for whatever reason. The story takes place in France, yet everyone speaks with a British accent. I know the original did that, but I suppose you forgive it because it’s more directed toward kids. So if the majority of the characters speak with French accents, there might be a dialect-barrier preventing kids from following everything that the characters would be saying. You could argue that this movie would have a similar effect, but that level of authenticity – or effort – for a remake would have gone a long way to show something different, especially since Lumière is the only one with a French accent. Yeah, I follow that logic. In a French village, only one candlestick speaks with a French dialect. Got it, Disney.

And Gaston. Some mixed feelings here, but I’ll start with what I didn’t like. Gaston in the original is a big dude. Ripped. Muscles on his muscles. When you see him lifting a chair with two people sitting on it in each arm, you have no problems believing that. Also, you know, animation, but that aside, it makes sense for how the character is built. However, when they do something like that here… look, I believe that Evans is a fit and athletic dude. But Gaston in the original at least looked like he was a legit contender in strength against the Beast. Gaston here is… just smarmy and self-centered, instead of a physical threatening presence.

***SPOILERS***

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And now for Belle’s backstory. Now, there is a point of humor that follows Disney films that there’s always at least one dead parent, or one that’s randomly not in the picture for insert reason here. Well, apparently someone thought that Belle’s mother should have a reason for not being there. Alright, not a bad idea and could provide something interesting for the character, but there’s also some disadvantages simply on arrival. First off, the focus of the story is on Belle and the Beast. Where could you possibly organically insert Belle’s mother into the mix and not have it feel awkward? The original did just fine without that element. Sadly, that is exactly the case. There’s probably a grand total of ten lines of dialog involving Belle’s mother. It’s not a very strong subject for her. Going back to my KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) review, if you took out this backstory, nothing is really lost from the character. Much like Kong who lost his parents, it’s not a backstory that really affects Belle. Nothing she does is in relation to the mother she never met. What I think could have impacted the character more would have been if Belle’s love of books was because her mother was a school teacher in literature and left many books to her when she died. A clever writer would have made those books reflect stories about mothers and daughters, or strong and independent women who changed their world, you know, something to reflect Belle’s personality that we already know. But that’s not what they do. They just reference her and show that she died of a plague. Wow. Drama for drama sake. Gotta love it.

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***END SPOILERS***

But before anyone thinks that I have only bad to say about it, think again, for there’s just as much good to say.

I’ll make good on continuing with my thoughts on Gaston, just to close out the subject. I like Evans as an actor and despite his physique not being what I imagined for Gaston, Evans has the man’s personality down to a tee. He has a smug grin that makes me want to punch him in his perfectly chiseled face and want to vomit in an expensive vase any time he gives a half-hearted compliment, and I mean all of this in the best possible way. Evans’ depiction is fantastic, almost on par with the original. He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s threatening, he’s annoying, major kudos.

But let’s get to the heart of the story: our beauty and the beast. Ladies first, Watson is actually pretty damn solid and is damn near perfect for the part. I especially like certain little touches with her character. There’s this quick, five second scene showing Belle teaching a little girl to read, only to be interrupted by the girl’s parents and scolding Belle for trying to make another literate female in the village. It only lasts a few seconds, but my gosh, that’s a movie moment. I thought it was too adorable. I could easily believe someone if they told me that scene was only added so Watson could get her “pro-feminism” moment on screen, but I don’t care. It was cute, and I liked it. Also, one of my favorite updates to the character is how she does take a subtle proverbial hit or two from all the mean things the villagers say about her. I remember in the original, she simply ignored what people said and continued on merry way. Thing is, while that can be fine for an animated movie, it might be a tad unrealistic in a live-action. I don’t know about the rest of you, but words definitely take a tole on you. Everyone has a sliding scale of how much it affects us, but it does. I enjoy that she is affected by it. She asks her father if she’s odd, and she has this pretty good line when she’s talking to Beast, that she felt: “…almost as lonely as being in your castle.” Paraphrasing of course, but I enjoyed the idea that sparked in my mind. In the castle, with the notable exception of the living furniture, the castle is remarkably empty. No people around at all. In the village, it’s bustling with activity and people interacting with each other. You couldn’t stretch your arm out without karate chopping someone. But each setting has its advantages and disadvantages. In the village, the hundreds of people that are there, like, people-people. But they’re nasty toward Belle, making her out to be an outsider. I can see someone being lonely in a crowd like that. On the flip side, Belle’s main source of social interaction is with a wardrobe and fine china, where she’s essentially a prisoner. Despite being treated fairly by them, I can see that being a little jarring as well, not interacting with an actual human being. You see that her loneliness isn’t her favorite adjective to describe herself, but she seems to know it’s not quite her fault. She’s just ahead of her time in the village and these close-minded people aren’t caught up with her mentality yet. And she’s not used to magic being a real thing in the castle, so adjustment would definitely be required. And… dang, that voice of hers. Watson’s got a set of lungs that keeps you listening.

Actually, this is probably a quick subject to tackle. To my understanding, there are no stand-in singers for the actors. That really is Watson and Stevens singing. That really is Evans singing. That really is Josh Gad singing. All of it was their voices. Not always live, granted. Some of it is pre-recorded and the film-makers used whatever came out better, and I’m sure it’s obvious to those who have the ears to catch that sort of thing, but I was impressed with how good everyone sounded. I really hope there wasn’t too much modification to their voices, otherwise, I’ll be really depressed.

http://www.cinemablend.com/new/How-Much-Beauty-Beast-Singing-Actually-Live-82787.html

And now it’s probably time to address the big “controversy” surrounding the film: a character being openly homosexual. Um… the controversy is stupid. Gay people exist. It’s 2017, the majority of us should be okay with this by now. So… yeah, controversy addressed. Moving on.

Fine fine, I won’t be that nonchalant about it, but really, could you blame me if I was? It really is 2017. While most audiences have been okay, even celebratory, about Disney making such a character, there’s been some who have been less than accepting. In fact, they’ve been so abrasiveness toward the idea that a movie theater in Alabama boycotted the film. Religious beliefs and what have you. Maybe it’s because I live in the Los Angeles area where this sort of thing doesn’t matter, but how in the world does religious beliefs affect a business?! Ugh! A couple of links below if you’re interested in details.

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/03/us/theater-shuns-disney-beauty-over-gay-moment/

http://www.vox.com/culture/2017/3/17/14941370/beauty-and-the-beast-boycott-gay-lefou

I know full-well that there’s plenty of religious folks out there who know this story and are phenomenally opposed to what this theater did and wholeheartedly accept that there’s a gay person in this movie. But never mind that, Disney is clearly showing that’s it’s evolving with the times. We’re getting more ethnic protagonists, and now we have an openly gay side character. You could even argue Disney created its first cross-dresser in STITCH! THE MOVIE (2003) I remember a petition going around that in Disney’s sequel to FROZEN (2013), Elsa should come out as gay and have a girlfriend. The point I’m trying to make is that those specific religious nutballs need to evolve past their beliefs and acknowledge that Disney is most likely going to keep doing this. They’re going to keep pushing the boundaries of what content they want to show and make normal for kids – and adults, for that matter – as time goes on. The current generation should always hope that the next will make more advances in humanity to root out those that would otherwise prefer to stay in their bubble of exclusivity and narrow-mindedness, otherwise, in the not too distant future, there could be an entire group of children that won’t be able to share these experiences with their peers who will grow up accepting what Disney is trying to normalize. Disney is leaving doors open and building new ones that thankfully, millions upon billions of movie-goers around the globe are eager to walk through.

But now for LaFou himself. Just because his character is gay doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a well-written character, now does it? Well… since this is the positives section of my review, so… actually, this is a nice update to the character. Once again, I haven’t seen the original in some time. I genuinely forgot who LaFou was. If you told me that Gaston had a funny little side-kick, I would have probably remembered that. But I wouldn’t remember his name, or his personality. He was a horribly forgetful side-character. LaFou here is much more clearly defined. He’s loyal and devoted to Gaston, as well as has an enormous crush. And though I myself am a flaming heterosexual… yeah, Evans is a good-looking dude. But in all seriousness, he’s not some bumbling henchman. He has thoughts of his own. When Gaston does something particularly nasty, LaFou won’t be completely okay with it. But he knows that Gaston is a force to be reckoned with, so out of fear, he won’t speak out against his actions. So there is a complexity to the LaFou that I doubt was there in the original. Also, Gad’s hilarious. I think this is my favorite performance by him and you can tell that he is having a blast playing this character. A big thumbs up on this alone.

I think I missed out on talking about Beast, so I’ll quickly tackle him. He’s played pretty safe. Nothing really new. But he looks great. Not much more to say. But overall, I think this movie is worth watching. Objectively speaking, the more important additions that should have had more impact on the story and characters are utterly pointless. Some updates work, even quite well, but don’t ultimately add anything to the story at large. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time watching this movie. It does capture the energy and imagination of the original and definitely took me back to when I was a kid. I recommend it to kids and adults, but if you were hoping for something new and inventive, it’s pretty devoid of all that. But if all you wanted was a live-action version of the original, I think you’ll get exactly that. I saw it once, but I’d be open to seeing it again.

My honest rating for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: a strong 3/5

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