Beauty and the Beast
Maybe I’m a tad biased, but I think criticism is a beautiful thing. If a book, song, movie, or any other piece of art is worthwhile - truly great in some way - it will survive even harsh critique. Just because something has flaws or troubling aspects, doesn’t make it totally worthless.
The critique of the year is, will 2017’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga) be as memorable as the original for future generations?
Yeah, there have always been critics of the original story. Does it glorify abusive relationships for instance? Stockholm Syndrome anyone? But Linda Woolverton, who wrote the 1991 screenplay, had something else entirely in mind during production.
“I deliberately set out to create a Disney heroine who was about more than her looks or how nicely she could behave when terrible things were happening to her,” she tells The Guardian. “I came out of the 60s and I was a feminist; I didn’t think women would accept a heroine who was going to sit around and wait for the prince to come and save her. The opening scene with her reading the books as she walks through town was what I did as a kid: when my mother sent me to the store, I kept reading all the way there and back.”
I, too, was that girl with her nose in a book. There are so many of us! And Beauty and the Beast finally gave us Belle, the Elizabeth Bennet of Disney animation. She’s not afraid to be a nerd, she fights back, she says “heck no” to the jerk trying to edge in on her space - yet she still has enough kindness and compassion in her heart to learn to love somebody everyone else sees as a “monster.”
A remake of a movie like this has a hundred new ways to shine. I love it when remakes tread new ground and make their own special moments. But they also have a hundred ways to fail - especially if the intangible magic of the original is muddled somewhere along the way.
The 2017 Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson (Harry Potter) and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), is first and foremost an experience in nostalgia. But it also brings several great qualities to the cinematic table of its own merit.
The cast is, by and large, utterly charming. Watson brings spunk and a lovely youthfulness to Belle, and Stevens gives the Beast great depth and personality - both in different ways from their predecessors. Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) shines magnificently as Gaston - emerging as the most well-rounded performer of the ensemble - and Audra McDonald (Shuffle Along, Broadway) continues to reign supreme over every note she touches, making us almost wish that she was cast to play every character instead of just the jolly wardrobe.
The film incorporates some new and satisfying moments, bringing in subtle elements of the original french fable, such as the request-and-theft of the rose (I love a good continuing motif!). It nods to the Broadway stage production, giving more backstory and depth to the enchanted household objects such as Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson, Bridget Jones’s Baby), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings), Lumiere (Ewan McGregor, Jane Got a Gun), and others.
It also takes care of a few curious plot holes from the original, like Why have no villagers seemed to notice the HUGE CASTLE until these events? Haven’t they wondered whatever happened to their Prince? and Wait, if the flower stops blooming when the Prince turns 21, and the servants have been rusting “for ten years,” wouldn’t that have made the Price an actual child when he was originally cursed?
(You know you’ve wondered this!)
Getting to see this new material was really fun, especially in a remake where you’re anticipating a lot of familiarity.
Unfortunately though, even with the fresh moments, I think the remake lacks the spark needed to make it a treasure that families will return to again and again.
First, it lacks some necessary patience and cohesion. From the absolute beginning of the prologue to the ending moments, the movie was filled to the brim and moved along with noticeable clumsiness. The directing and editing felt rushed, and very rarely was the audience given time to sit with a moment, a note, or a shot, before another swirled along.
(Contrast this with the patient “Lavender’s Blue” reveal scene in the Cinderella remake, and you’ll know just what I mean!)
From a cinematic perspective, I’m also of the opinion that the movie should have been much more visually arresting than it was. Some visuals were strong, don’t get me wrong - like the Beast’s castle being under a perpetual winter because of the curse - but too many settings and locations were forgettable or indistinguishable. For example, we should get to know the castle like a character of its own, but unfortunately, that didn’t really happen.
Other spectacle-driven scenes like “Be Our Guest” - while sung beautifully by Ewan McGregor - echoed the 1991 version in color scheme and style but felt a bit off when taken out of the original medium (maybe it’s the vaguely unsettling character design of the new CG animated objects?). Sometimes it just takes a simple touch to make a scene pop the right way, and this new version could have used more of those touches to draw focus.
And, I would be remiss not to say that I was extremely disappointed in the sound and vocal editing choices made by the filmmakers here. You may have read or heard complaints about the film’s use of “autotune” in Emma Watson’s singing. The digital smoothing of the singing in this film is one of the strongest and most noticeable I’ve heard in a movie musical, and I was not a fan.
When you take a step back and consider the whole though, the movie is still fun. Some people even left the theatre weeping with joy! Watching it brought major nostalgia for this 90’s kid, and I think it will for others as well. A movie so packed with familiar score and talented actors is honestly worth anyone’s time, especially if you enjoy the world of fairy tales. (Head’s up: it will also make you super keen to watch the original again, so dust off that VHS.)