(SPOILERS FOLLOW. If you haven’t seen the film yet and want to be surprised, read no further.)
Back from live-action “Beauty and the Beast”. What did I think?
First of all, I’m not even going to dignify the “LaFou Controversy” with a response unless someone really wants to hear my thoughts save to say it’s a bit more pronounced than just a few jokes, but not much.
All in all…I personally feel that in some ways it was superior to the original. While it’s undeniable in this film that they were definitely constantly thinking of the original animated film, right down to the judicious use of not only the original songs, but the original score and having new songs written by the same people who wrote the original ones, and the use of scenes and effects that were straight from the source material, I don’t feel that this film was trying to “coast by on nostalgic feelings”. Rather, the filmmakers realized that if they took too many liberties or did too many new things, the trolls would ooze out of the woodwork and start raging about how the film cut out their favorite things from the source material. You can argue the same people behind “The Force Awakens” did the same thing.
The performances were great. Disney clearly spared no expense trying to get a talented (and even famous) person in every role. Paige O’Hara’s career was on Broadway so obviously her voice is the superior one between her and Emma Watson, but Emma Watson is definitely no slouch herself in the musical department. She performed well in all the musical numbers. The voice I truly liked, however, was Dan Stevens’ one for the Beast. I’m not sure if it was doctored some to make him sound more “monstrous”, but his was fantastic. It was almost like a young Tim Curry. While he got to do a lot of physical acting in whatever CGI, motion-capture technology they used (and I was very impressed at how many facial expressions they managed to get out of the Beast), it was his voice that definitely sold the role. It’s a good thing they gave him an original song to make full use of it. By comparison, although Luke Evans did Gaston well enough, his voice was far too light. He wasn’t able to sing the “Gaston” song in the original key with as much bravado. (He did pretty good with “Kill the Beast”, though…at least in my opinion.) I kind of miss Angela Lansburry doing the signature “Beauty and the Beast” song as Emma Thompson is good but just not quite as good as her, but she still did a great job on her end too. And, luckily, “Be Our Guest” was originally talk-sung in the first movie so Ewan McGregor could nail that as well.
They definitely went all out with the art design. They seemed to realize they couldn’t mimic the vivacity and color of an animation, so instead they made the castle dripping with Rococo style. Really sets the time and place. To be honest, it wasn’t until I thought about the film after the first time seeing it that I realized: “Oh…this movie is supposed to be in France, isn’t it?” Here it comes out a lot stronger.
Plotwise it’s fairly identical to the animated film, but the changes they made I think made it a bit better. Maurice is rather more subdued in this movie (not even being an inventor but rather a toymaker), but I kind of like that. If they had gone for how he was in the original film, he might have come off as a charicature or joke. Here he seems more “human” and real. I like that the reason he is imprisoned in this film isn’t for trespassing. In fact, Maurice and Phillipe’s brief stint in the castle is more similar to the original story. Similar to that one, he earns the Beast’s ire for “stealing” a rose. Belle actually calls out the fact that it’s ridiculous to imprison someone for life for a single flower, to which the Beast responds that he received “eternal damnation” because of a single flower. So…it’s still the Beast being mean, but it works in better. They went with the Broadway version on how the servants transformed into objects are only gradually turning into inanimate objects rather than all at once, and by the time Belle gets there they’re pretty much almost “stuff”. There’s no more bookstore in the village. Rather the books that Belle borrows is from a local parson who has a grand total of a dozen for her to choose from.
One small little touch I liked is that normally when there’s a time limit on things like magic curses in films, it always goes down “to the wire”. It’s always at the very last moment that things get broken, when the proverbial ticking clock is at 00:01 seconds. In this one…time runs out. The last petal falls. The curse is complete. However, a few seconds later is when Belle confesses she loves the Beast, and the Enchantress decides: “Eh, close enough.” and undoes the curse anyway. That’s a small detail, but…I liked it.
They also tried to patch the more infamous plot holes from the original film. First of all, they got rid of the 10 year time period since the Beast was cursed and instead made it an indeterminate length of time. They also showed how as the flower wilted the castle gradually turned into the way it looked; that the castle itself was cursed along with the servants inside it. In doing so, they also plugged the plot hole about the weather continuously changing by saying the grounds around the castle were cursed to always be dead and in the middle of winter. (The movie itself takes place in June.) Lastly, they made part of the curse was that everyone in the prince’s fiefdom would forget he and the castle even existed when he got cursed. One might think they’d just use that to cover up the one plot hole of no one knowing about the Beast until Maurice and Belle stumbled on him, but they took it a bit further. As it turns out, some of the relatives of the servants are living in the village where Belle lives…they just weren’t in the castle when it got cursed. As a result, some of the people in the village forgot they had been married or even had relatives in the castle (such as Mr. Potts).
And why did the Enchantress curse everyone in the castle and not just the Beast? Because…uh…they didn’t raise him to be nicer.
…Ok, they didn’t patch all the plot holes.
One of the things that I didn’t realize about Gaston in the original film until much later in life was the parallelism between him and the Beast. As the Beast gradually “turns into a human” throughout the course of the film, Gaston gradually “turns into a monster”. Part of the reason I didn’t get that in the original film was because Gaston wasn’t very likable even early on. He wasn’t just an egomaniac; he was also an obvious jerk. In this movie, I like that Gaston is tuned down a little at the beginning and looks to be more comic relief. Egomaniac? Sure. Bit of a jerk? Sure. A threat or the villain? Nah. I think the change is more pronounced in this one.
But the biggest thing I like about this film is that it devoted more time to trying to build a relationship between Belle and the Beast. Even as a child, when I saw the original movie I had a sense that we had suddenly made a jump in their relationship without really explaining how they had got there. By comparison, this movie actually takes a bit of time. It took an opportunity to dig a bit more into both characters.
Belle is an individual basically ahead of her time stuck in a place where she’s not only unappreciated but her positive qualities are essentially wasted. Yet the original film didn’t really sell me on that. Sure, in the musical number “Belle” it makes it clear that the people of the village think she’s odd, but she doesn’t seem to be suffering too much for it…outside of Gaston only seeing her as a pretty face playing hard-to-get rather than for who she was. In this version, it’s played up more. I can actually see in this one not only Gaston but the community at large prefering if she would just “be like everyone else” even if it means denying her own true nature and intelligence.
The Beast, on the other hand, had his mean side overdone a bit in the original; to the point where more extreme feminists would say the movie is terrible for being a case of Stockholm Syndrome. In this one, he’s a bit better. There’s attention drawn to the fact that he’s not coarse and mean at times because he’s a brute but because he sees being sensitive and pleasant as weakness or childishness. The line in the original, where he responds to being told to help Belle see beyond his monstrous side with “I don’t know how.”, seems to be the focal point for his character.
And by working through both of these, I actually believe the chemistry between the two. I can actually see a relationship forming.
There are a couple things I disliked about the film, although they’re mostly small details. Emma Watson is a far better actor than I’ll ever be, but I can’t help but wish she would have rehearsed her facial expressions a bit better in a few scenes. Throughout the whole “Be Our Guest” number, which tries its hardest to be as big and bold and flashy as the animated version, she just has an oddly bemused expression on her face the whole sequence. Part of acting is “re-acting”. You can have the biggest line, the most shocking moment, or the coolest gesture on screen, but if the actor you’re playing it to only gives a mild reaction, it won’t seem as big. I blame that one on the director for not better relating to her what was going to be happening in that scene (her eyes aren’t even on Lumiere most of it–a hallmark of badly-done CGI sequences). Yet later in the film, during the big moment where the Beast lets her free so she can go to her father and gives her the mirror so that she’ll always be able to look back on him, I don’t know what’s up with her face. She almost looks…disgusted, which is just weird.
The other thing is there’s a line or two that’s clearly pop culture. I never really care for those. And a dog urination joke just to arbitrarily bump the rating up to PG from G because “Oh no! We can’t let people think this movie is just for babies! Even though the original was a G and we’re counting on the same adults who loved that movie to come see this one…”? Shame on you, Disney.
So all in all I enjoyed it quite a bit. In terms of the grab-bag that is the live-action versions of Disney classics, I think it rates high.
The problem is people aren’t going to evaluate this movie on its own merits or as a stand-alone film (by its own nature if nothing else). They’re going to compare it to its source material. And, unfortunately, it’s not going to measure up. And since in modern culture everything has to be trash or treasure, the fact that it’s not as good as the original is going to make people declare it to be garbage automatically (well…that or the “LaFou Controversy”…).
That’s really not that fair to this movie. It deserves an A+ for effort if nothing else, because they clearly went all-out to try and make this film capture the magic of the original. There is nothing more they could have done and, to me, they managed to do better in several regards.
Yet as an aside, I almost take that sort of criticism as a compliment.
To me, that proves something that I’ve known for years. Animated films are not just “eye candy for kids”, even in the modern day with CGI everywhere. They’re an art form to themselves. They’re a method of storytelling that can’t be reproduced by live action no matter how hard it tries. This movie honestly tried in every possible way to measure up to the original animated film…and it failed. It failed because it’s not an animated film. The style, the characterization, the motions, the facial expressions, the imagination…every little bit and piece of an animated film that goes a bit above and beyond what is possible from the turn of a lip to the light on a sconce to the growth of the trees…all of that is only possible in the medium of the animated film. These are things that the giants like Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki have known for decades. They’re the reason why animated films are still made, and why they are classics. To try and say the animated medium only has an audience in the realm of children is both insulting to animation as a whole as well as an act of prejudice toward one’s own tastes.
The United States is only now really starting to see that animated film is something that should be for everyone and not just “the kiddies”. This movie not only was able to tell a good movie on its own, but drew attention to that. My only hope is that people are wise enough to realize that the reason this movie didn’t measure up wasn’t because of a lack of effort and passion on the part of the filmmakers, but because the original is an immortal animated classic. That just like the characters in the film, there’s a lot more to that then what’s on the outside.