Sunday, March 19, 2017
In Which I Review Beauty and the Beast (2017 Movie)
This is a tale as old as time (sorry, lame joke I know. It's low hanging fruit but totally within my reach) and all the classic moments are found embedded in this new version. Where the story differs, though, is in trying to provide more character motivation that isn't necessary in an animated Disney film largely aimed at an extremely young audience. In the animated movie, the Beast is understood to be beastly even from a young age but without any given reason. While it is true that the privileged and the rich can exhibit traits like vanity and arrogance, there is usually something lurking beneath the surface to explain those characteristics. Here, the Beast is given an appropriate backstory (unsurprisingly it involves a dead parent and a less than ideal other parent) which compares and contrasts nicely with Belle's own tragic backstory and rearing under a far more kindly father. In the animated movie the titular Beauty and Beast have little in common except their circumstances of being literally locked up together but here, in this live action movie, the two can bond over their own loneliness. Belle even remarks that her village is as lonely as the Beast's castle. The two are also outcasts and that further bonds them. While Belle, in both the animated and live version, is loudly (and in sing-song style!) told she's odd and out of place, the animated Beast is shown to have a good dose of friendliness with his servants through their own damnation and desire to see the curse broken. In the live version, though, in order to parallel with Belle, the Beast's relationship with Lumiere, Cogsworth and the like is awkward and stilted because the Beast does not know how to interact with these people he's condemned to a life of objecthood. What's even more interesting here is that the various servants feel that they are responsible for the Beast's situation given that they did not save the young prince from his wretched father. This overwhelming guilt fleshes out the servant characters who's only original purpose was to provide Belle a window into their enchanted life and help explain the Beast's internal thoughts when he's incapable of doing so; this in turn helps them to feel more human as opposed to just enchanted objects who sing to you over your dinner.
--I need to start with the biggest controversy surrounding the entire film: the character of LeFou. In the animated Disney film, LeFou is the comedic sidekick to Gaston and his only role is to prop up the villain's ego and not be disgruntled over the treatment he receives. It's not a great character but LeFou does serve to show how terrible Gaston truly is--a man who beats up and bullies his best friend isn't a man to write home about. In this new version, however, the movie decided it was time to give LeFou some extra flavoring and so they made him subtly gay. This is the first openly gay character in the Disney universe but it was also made a bigger deal by the producers than is depicted on screen. It wasn't really until the end scene when the film openly showed LeFou as homosexual; until then, however, while it was never explicit, Josh Gad and the writers depicted LeFou in what can only be called overtly cliche homosexual hallmarks. He's flamboyant though you can make the argument it's keeping with a cartoon character. I will say, however, that LeFou was not the spineless twerp he is in the animated film; in this modern version he has a strong conscious and is a voice of reason to Gaston's brutish neanderthal nature.
--This is a visually stunning film. The colors--either natural or garish--are rich and eye-popping and the graphic design is breathtaking. Pay close attention to the costumes in this film. A lot of color themes are worked throughout; in the early story the prince and palace are shown in harsh bright colors, almost unnatural and otherworldly. Belle is rendered in her hallmark blues and natural tones though she stands in contrast to the vulgar townspeople who are in shades not found in nature (though, tellingly, they are found in the Prince's castle before the enchantment). The Prince himself wears his normal blue coat but it slowly changes until he becomes more human and his blues are picked up in Belle's wardrobe.
--Speaking of, the Beasts's final powder blue outfit was delicious and I'd love to own it.
--"Hello. And what is your name?" "That...is a hairbrush."
--The incorporation of some of the original French fairy tale was a really nice touch.
--All the actors did a bang up job but Emma Watson and Dan Stevens did particularly well. However, while I love Emma Thompson generally her depiction of Mrs Potts was a bit too cliche. Mrs. Potts is supposed to be kind and motherly but I was overly distracted by Thompson's over the top cockney accent. Honestly, would it have killed them to get Angela Landsbury back?
--It does bother me that the library scene was not recreated exactly as it is in the animated film but the continuing motif of being intellectually compatible and bonding over the library books made up for it.
--Between his career defining work on Legion and this wonderfully nuanced and careful portrayal of the Beast, I sort of fell a little in love with Dan Stevens.
--All the classic songs are here and done with aplomb, though "Be Our Guest" was noticeably slowed down. This is perhaps made up by the soaring solo performance by the Beast as Belle leaves the castle; it gave me honest to goodness shivers.
The changes made serve the story well but are not so frequent as to distract Disney fans who came to relive some early 1990s nostalgia. The themes that made the animated movie so strong are here aplenty ready for new young girls to grasp on to.