Film Review: 'Beauty and the Beast' (2017)
Haven't been this angry since 'The Green Mile.'
Oh, boy. Maybe it would've been better if I went with my original plan and avoided this one altogether.
Before the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, there was only ever one other film that actually made me angry, and that was The Green Mile. Even if I've never had the benefit of seeing the 1991 animated version, I'd still be in utter disbelief and wonder why anyone thought this was a good idea.
Everyone should have had the time to get themselves familiarized with this old tale by now; but if by some chance you haven't, here's my synopsis: a young bookworm named Belle (Emma Watson) desperately wishes to lead an extraordinary life beyond her village, where she's outcasted by everyone but the boorish, self-proclaimed hotshot Gaston (Luke Evans), who's hellbent on marrying her—much to her dismay, of course.
Her inventor father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), has a high opinion of her though and promises to bring her back a rose after finishing up his trip with his trusty steed Phillipe—but not before he loses his way and ends up trespassing a Beast's (Dan Stevens) enchanted castle. Maurice becomes his prisoner, and with Phillipe's help, Belle finds him and offers to be the Beast's prisoner in his place.
In this version, it's directly implied to her that everyone in the castle is under a spell that can only be broken by a confession of true love between the Beast and his love interest. But will they even be able to get along? Eh...
Beauty and the Beast, at its core, is a story that touches upon several themes: friendship, forgiveness, true love, and true beauty. They're certainly in the remake as well, but I'm not convinced that this film completely realizes them.
For now, however, I want to discuss the very few strengths this film has (believe it or not), because the world would be a pretty dull place if we were critical of everything all the time.
One thing that I actually appreciate is most of the added dialogue between Belle and the Beast during their courting scenes. They get to talk more about things as equals, like playing to each other's interests and swapping witty remarks.
There's another scene I like with Belle in particular, and it's when she's reading to a little girl from her village while waiting for her laundry to dry. Others have argued that the scene is pointless, because the political intent behind it never really goes anywhere. This is true; besides, it was never truly resolved in the original film either, but knowing how much I'll be slamming Watson's Belle later on in the review, I needed to point out SOMETHING that helps to retain even the slightest bit of the character's humanity. Since Belle, frankly, shows little to no care for the townsfolk in the original, this is a welcomed add-on that demonstrates her attempt to connect with someone in the town.
That's about the extent of my compliments to the script, unfortunately.
Regardless of their thoughts on the film itself, everyone seems to agree that the aesthetic is solid. I personally found it rather generic and too reminiscent of the Cinderella (2015) remake. Most of the servants in their enchanted form look incredibly fake and even downright frightening; I especially hate how incredibly shiny Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) are. I do like Mrs. Pott's (Emma Thompson) design, however. I don't know; I find her pretty cute. It could be the fact that her facial features match well with the Chinese porcelain aesthetic.
The Feather Duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) Lumiere is smitten with also got a nice revamp. It's the only design in this film that I prefer a great deal over the original. They went with a more graceful and delicate direction for this character, and it definitely works. I am a bird enthusiast though, so I may just be biased.
And then there's this one floral dress Belle wears—truthfully, the yellow ballroom gown has got absolutely nothing on it.
Lastly, I felt that Stevens portrayed the Beast decently. In addition to what I mentioned before about his conversations with Belle, there's a sense of dignity and heart to his character. I only found the beginning kind of odd, because he is portrayed more as a playboy than a spoiled jerk (probably because he's a grown man from the get-go). The design is maybe a little too "pretty" and not ferocious enough, but I didn't mind it much. This time around, however, he's not the one most in need of change...
...because he's literally the only compelling character in this entire movie.
Everyone else was either a nothing character, annoying, or extremely bland. Maurice, who's a quirky and supportive sweetheart of a father in the original, is an uninspired, discounted extra straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Lumiere plays stock tour guide and MC, because he has no one to play off of—the charming camaraderie between all the servants, one of the most beloved aspects of the original, is missing.
And please hear me out when I say that making LeFou (Josh Gad) gay was completely pointless, and it's not just because he never indicated affection towards men in the original. Instead of putting effort into original characters out of pure passion and visionary intent, Disney has decided to communicate the message that we shouldn't value characters—people—for who they are by changing them to appease an agenda.
But even then, the result is entirely counter-progressive. It didn't improve his development in any way (he's not that significant of a character to begin with) and was played as a taboo for dismissive laughs—much like the majority of the LGBTQ community in fiction. If anything, this rendition of LeFou is teaching youth to be ashamed of their orientation, that it's their only defining characteristic, that they all necessarily behave the same way, and that they'll be laughed at for it. Even Gad didn't seem all that comfortable while acting the part. Will the era of normalization ever come? Can we ever have more than just the one character at a time? Movie makers, put down the checklists, why don't cha?
And oh, Gaston, what have they done to you? The bold, hilarious, and cunning you? All this one does is shmooze. He's also tone deaf in this film, and I'm not talking about the singing. Here, he likes Belle for more than just her looks, when really, that isn't the point of the character. Gaston's whole deal is that he cares about winning. He's not really "interested" in Belle. He doesn't see or think about anything else other than satisfying himself and looking good in front of everyone else—something that's very much in line with this village's mentality. Thus, status plays a massive role in this, which is why he's highly motivated and is willing to work for all the beautiful things he wants if provoked. His confidence is totally deluded, especially since he doesn't take a hint.
But that's not all; Gaston isn't technically a "baddie" in the beginning, because he doesn't do anything morally wrong despite his opinions, and he's considered a hero among villagers, which is important to note in light of how he later uses his influence to manipulate them for his own benefit. It's not until much later in the Disney film when he goes psychotic in trying to win Belle over, not because he's smitten with her anymore, but because he doesn't want to lose shamefully to some ugly, savage monster.
But the problem here is that he becomes a sadist far too early in the film, all because he finds Maurice mildly annoying, and not because he's getting desperate. Considering the direction they took with Gaston, you'd think he'd be kissing up to Maurice a LOT more at this point. That whole reference LeFou makes to warfare casualties definitely doesn't help to ease things, either.
And finally, Belle. Belle, Belle, Belle. Time for the smackdown looped to infinity.
Watson had a major hand in reimagining this character, and all her efforts boiled down to stripping away any humanness in favour of making a "feminist" statement. I have yet to see a Disney female lead that is more lifeless and condescending than her (though Gabriella Montez comes tantalizingly close)—I won't even touch the singing, seeing as everyone else has. She doesn't enjoy any moment or care for anything, not even when talking about books, and it's all evident in her almost nonexistent expressions. This Belle just wants to be right about everything and not admit to her mistakes or misconceptions. Her only purpose is to prove that if she involves herself in everything and at least attempts to do something resourceful, she's strong, when in reality, it all somehow mostly makes her look more idiotic. Nope, not seeing anything progressive about this.
The whole "Belle is now the inventor" tagline was hyped up way too much, considering how she only actually helps solve problems twice and draws device concepts for a little bit in the beginning. Here was a wasted opportunity to run with it—why not have her come up with all kinds of crazy gadgets with her dad, and/or even the Beast—maybe they could've come into use later on? But my issue with this is how it seems to push the idea that if you're not securing some "dignified" occupation, you're not an interesting character. It especially undermines the struggle of women in that time period to even be able to comfortably read and write without being side-eyed.
Additionally, Belle has no chemistry with any character, and spends the majority of the film talking down to everyone. There are so many moments that absolutely ruin the original's nuances, and one of them is the lack of Belle's mischievous sense of humour. She teases Gaston in the original, rather than outright telling him she isn't interested. Here, she makes her feelings crystal clear without any sass. Where's the fun in that? The same thing applies to her curiosity about the west wing; in the original, she playfully weasels her way out of the castle tour to get there. Here, she saunters towards it after bidding goodnight to the others. Again, it makes you not want to tag along with her. I was happy when the Beast threw that snowball at her.
I was NOT happy, however, when he revealed his library to her early on and just let her have it on a whim. Unlike the original, there's no thought put into it, and it doesn't happen at a point when their relationship culminates. I was also not happy with him releasing her right away upon hearing unfortunate news about her father. This is supposed to be one of the most powerful moments of the film, when he first looks at the rose to realize what he'll be sacrificing. This is where we see his complete change in priorities and commitment to her happiness. No, instead we get some Phantom of the Opera-esque cheesiness in musical form. I'm not kidding.
Speaking of musicals, the songs composed specifically for this film are 100% unforgettable. I don't remember how a single one sounds. The songs we do know and love are unsurprisingly botched. What more is there to say?
There's a couple added plot points that bother me, too. The biggest one is that enchanted book that lets Belle and the Beast go anywhere they want— in this case, Paris. Now, this film feels the need to explain everything, from Belle's mother's death (which adds absolutely nothing to the story or her development) to the stark contrast in weather change between the village and Beast's castle (the original was clever in never indicating exactly how long Belle stayed with the Beast), as opposed to leaving the audience to come to conclusions themselves. Sorry, movie, but Narnia did the weather changing thing better.
And for all its exposition, the film never feels the need to explain why they can't just use this book to solve all their problems, and we never see the book again after that one particular scene. Great. The film is so concerned with "filling plot holes" that it doesn't even bother addressing the greatest mystery of all: what is the Beast's connection to this land? Does he rule it, or is he detached from it for some reason? We will never know. Thanks, movie, for not holding my hand in the moment when I needed you the most.
I could go on and on, but we'll be here for an eternity. Simply put, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about when I say that the remake doesn't seem to fully understand the themes of the original. So many elements that made the original a classic were thrown away, and the payoff is worthless, because you don't believe in any of it.
But in all honesty, if you're just looking for something nostalgic with the occasional good joke and relative eye candy, you should be able to enjoy this remake—don't let us cynics get to you. If you're too passionate about what this story is meant to be—like I am—stay away is all I can say.