Beauty and the Beast, 2017.
Directed by Bill Condon.
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Sonoya Mizuno, Hattie Morahan, and Audra McDonald.
An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.
Disney’s live-action remake of 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast literally wastes not a second before nostalgically pulling at those childhood heartstrings, as it booms the beloved theme immediately as the camera begins drawing us closer to the iconic blizzardy located castle. Call it reassurance for those worried that this new take (on what is arguably the studio’s greatest accomplishment in their decades-spanning, unparalleled history) would stray away from the revered familiar story beats and musical numbers.
Director Bill Condon (who has a very bizarre, hit-and-miss filmography containing such disasters as Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1+2 and 2015’s unfortunately overlooked dementia ridden Sherlock Holmes character study, Mr. Holmes) isn’t interested in reimagining the tale as old as time, but rather updating the property to function in the context of modern times. For as unequivocally loved and toweringly hoisted on a pedestal as Beauty and the Beast is, it still does have a negative Stockholm Syndrome stigma that, while debatable, still makes a compelling argument for its detractors.
With that said, it is deeply appreciated that the changes from the animated version to the live-action remake largely come from character details and more subtle personality tweaks, rather than unnecessary drastically reworking the narrative. Some have already criticized Emma Watson’s Belle (without having seen the damn movie mind you) for not striking a good enough visual resemblance of the original inquisitive bookworm, being capable of lending worthy vocals to the timeless tunes (which is an absolutely ridiculous accusation) or not being as bubbly and fun, but the truth is that this is a different Belle. She fits the ongoing feminist movement (the sane portion with their priorities straight) in wanting more out of life and not being eye candy for men.
As Donald Trump, I mean Gaston relentlessly pursues Belle’s affection like a narcissistic egomaniac incapable of comprehending how a woman, even with his social status and charming good looks could have no desire for him (granted, Trump looks like a giant orange Cheeto, but the behavioral similarities are there), at one point he playfully tugs at the bottom of her blouse to which she staunchly removes his hand and, as most of us know, says she will never, ever marry him. That female empowerment carries over into her singing, which is bursting with determination and a lust for adventure. This more grounded and serious envisioning of Belle is a Disney Princess young girls (not that there was anything necessarily wrong with the original interpretation) can aspire to be in the future. Bravo!
Furthermore, Luke Evans truly does smash it out of the park playing Donald Trump, crap, did it again, Gaston. It’s a shock he didn’t just grab Belle by the pussy at one point. For all we know, such a scene was filmed and deleted to ensure a family-friendly PG rating. He’s full of himself (even complementing his reflection in a mirror) and convincingly exudes a cocky swagger in his vain attempts at winning over Belle. There is also a disturbing mean streak to his methods, showcasing that no evil deed or nefarious act is going too far if it will get him what he craves. On that note, “Kill the Beast” is undoubtedly the strongest and most engaging musical number of the film.
Of course, he is essentially conjoined with has sidekick LeFou, which unfortunately is the center of much controversy due to the fact that this interpretation of the character is gay. However, instead of getting into a long-winded rant about how terrible society is, let’s bring attention to how much Josh Gad (Frozen‘s Olaf and the various canines in the currently playing A Dog’s Purpose) kills it. Of all the performers in Beauty and the Beast, he is the most expressive and downright charming, consistently making the majority of the other songs pale in comparison. Gad is a real-life cartoon character here who clearly possesses knowledge on how to make singing and dancing come alive. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the musical numbers are good, but Josh Gad hands-down turns in the best performance of this remake, and it has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of LeFou.
Beauty and the Beast is not without mistakes and flaws; there is a reason I have not mentioned Beast yet. This is actually somewhat surprising considering how astonishing the special effects were in last year’s remake of The Jungle Book, but the CGI Beast leaves a lot to be desired on a technical level. Dan Stevens (The Guest) delivers a serviceable performance and does what he can with the motion capture suit, but some of his facial expressions and movements are jarring. This is not helped at all when Beast gets to perform his own minutes long solo track, which borders on unintentional hilarity simply because the special effects are off.
Even the iconic household objects ranging from teapots to candles to clocks and more are all very awkward in action. They fare better than Beast (most likely because the cinematography doesn’t demand too many close-up shots of them), and their wildly anticipated rendition of “Be Our Guest” is assuredly one of the film’s better musical moments (Condon is allowed to briefly escape reality and inject the castle with a variety of fantasy elements and vibrantly colorful aesthetics), but overall their scenes are either boring or weird to watch unfold. If any case is to be made for Beauty and the Beast being unadaptable as a live-action affair, it’s pretty much anything involving them, regardless of great performances from notable actors such as Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Emma Thompson.
It feels as if much of the budget went to the production design, as the castle is massive along with being rich in detail. Even with a curse over the surroundings shrouding the luxurious abode in darkness, Condon finds a way to inject bright colors (the ballroom dance is here and Belle’s iconic yellow dress is stunning) and give the castle its own sense of identity. It’s a shame we don’t get to spend more time there during non-cursed periods, but also potentially a blessing as another of the film’s pitfalls is actually inserting too much superfluous background exposition on situations (such as the death of Belle’s mother). Less is more, and I can firmly state that Beauty and the Beast did not need to run 45 minutes longer than its animated counterpart.
Small shortcomings aside, Beauty and the Beast is a splendid remake. Even today, its themes regarding finding love and beauty from within a person and not for social status and appearances resonate, probably more true than ever before as society continues to head on a downward trend in shallowness and selfishness. Wonky CGI, running time issues, and admittedly, being unable to match the magic of the 1991 classic aside, Beauty and the Beast is still the tale as old as time you’re knowledgeable on, but now erases some of the original’s regressive thinking.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★