I haven’t written an article in ages…. Ah, well. Doesn’t matter. Since there has been a great frou-frou and a tizzy storm over Disney’s recent live action Beauty and the Beast 2017, I thought I would be remiss if I did not watch it. And watch it I did. So here, below, I’m sharing my thoughts on Disney’s revamped Beauty and the Beast 1991 as a live action feature circa 2017. Please don’t read this article if you haven’t seen the movie yet, and don’t want any spoilers!
The first scene featuring the prince’s hosted party was “intentionally campy,” and even when the enchantress arrived on the scene-- the gravity of the entire situation was ENTIRELY MISSING. Sorry. The seriousness just wasn’t there at all! The gravity of the whole situation involving the imposing enchantress and the foreboding atmosphere was present in the original cartoon… and I even felt bad for the prince, there. But here, I felt, “YAY! Do him in!!!! Make him ugly!!!!” The discrepancy between the childhood cartoon, and the live action “take” on it, felt especially strange to me. It was all done in slapstick. It was BAD.
The Principal Characters We All Know (and Some of Us Love)
Belle: Emma Watson is still walking around “speaking lines” instead of “embodying and emoting them,” and the effect of her “acting” upon me remains largely the same. I am untouched. Emma could recite Shakespearean sonnets about love, and I would still be bored. Back when I first saw Belle as a cartoon on the original big screen in 1991 (why yes, I am dating myself, here, as my parents took me to see it, and I was all of eight years at the time) Belle wasn’t much of a “deep” character at all, and she didn’t have any “overt flaws,” either. Belle was like standard vanilla ice cream or white bread. There was nothing major or exciting about her. Even my eight year old self recognized that Belle wasn’t holding my attention span, and I didn’t really “see” myself in her. I glommed to Belle’s brown flats, instead. As I got older, I especially noticed that unlike the Belle in the original fairytale, which I had now read multiple times in many versions, Disney’s Belle had an overall sanctimonious attitude toward just about everybody.
Now here is the good news!!!! Emma Watson didn’t have to bring much to the role of Belle because there wasn’t much there to reprise. Emma fits this role just as much as would any other actress you can name. I wasn’t expecting much, and Emma Watson lived up to my expectations. The original fairytale, where Belle has many older siblings, and a really difficult home life, and well… that Belle is more characterized, layered, and flawed. And I love that version of Belle quite a bit. Disney’s cartoon Belle is okay. But she never becomes something more. In Disney’s live action version, Belle is still okay, and she stays who she is right up until the curtains descend and nothing new happens with her at all. This live action Belle mirrors her cartoon predecessor, and meets my exacting, but very low expectations.
Gaston: Moving right along. Gaston as played by Luke Evans is campy factor pumped up to 1000, and then left to wave in the breeze like boxer briefs. I mean, I thought it was okay that Gaston’s character was sorta campy in the original cartoon, but I wasn’t expecting the over-the-top acting element to be brought in and tacked on to such a high degree. Then Disney went on a tear and added all of this “sadistic behavior” to Gaston’s character traits, which made him--- in my view-- even less enjoyable. Instead of being the jock in town with a penchant for popping heads, and threatening people (as in the original cartoon), now Gaston is a merciless multiple- time premeditated murderer. Worse, Disney. That was worse.
Lefou: Then there is Josh Gad as Lefou. Gad is still acting like Olaf from Frozen. He’s just there, and he just holds up space. The end, with Lefou quasi-meeting someone more his type was fine. The “gay element” notwithstanding, Gad just brought no enhancement to anything that wasn’t already present in Lefou’s character.
Maurice: I’m not sure I have anything to say about Kevin Kline. I’ve seen him in other movies. In this one, he was really unmemorable.
Lumiere: Ewan McGregor was himself. That’s all there was to his performance. He hammed it up, and did execute the over-the-top version of “Be Our Guest” with success.
Cogsworth: Ian McKellen was appropriately cranky and crusty.
Mrs. Potts: Emma Thompson did well as Mrs. Potts. But I still miss Angela Lansbury’s voice singing, “Tale as old as time…”
Chip: I don’t know who Nathan Mack is, but he was cute as Chip.
Plumette/Feather Duster: Gugu Mbatha-Raw was appropriately feisty.
Beast/Prince: Dan Stevens was okay. He gave some more quirkiness to the Beast, and less of the growly, pissed-off attitude. I sort of appreciated that. But I still don’t like his CGI.
The Story (and the new backstory)
The whole movie felt like it was happening in slow-motion somehow. I mean, parts of it moved by pretty rapidly (Gaston’s Tavern scene, and the ballroom scene). And then there were parts that were just…there. They felt like dead space. Like, why did we need a continued repetition of Belle and the Beast in the snow? And then more scenes of Belle in different dresses in the snow? It just got boring there, in my view.
I had always had a suspicion that Disney had killed off Belle’s mom. Just like Bambi. The backstory about Belle’s mom dying of the plague in a dingy Paris attic was just ultimate proof of that.
Also, there was, in the cartoon, at least some reference to the origin of “the magic mirror,” “the rose in the bell jar,” etc. In the live action version, there was NO TRANSITION at all, explaining how these specialized objects came to be in the Beast’s possession. The Beast didn’t even say, “The Enchantress cursed me, but gave me a magic rose, a magic mirror, and a magic book.” All the explanation we received was that the Enchantress gave the prince an enchanted book. For all the rest, the audience was left to surmise that the enchantress must have given the prince these things. Because it was NEVER explained. That part IRKED me.
The Music: In my opinion, Ewan McGregor had the best song, because it stood out from all of the old and new songs found in this feature. The rest of the songs, even the standard favorites, literally were a paler shade of their former selves in this movie. The newer songs, besides “Evermore” sung by Dan Stevens (later Josh Groban), just felt like “incidental music to fill up the time.”
Conclusion: I came away not really hating or loving this movie. It was just all right. It wasn’t phenomenal or great to me. It wasn’t as transporting in the small moments with Belle and the Beast together (there was the tiniest bit of some chemistry there, but there was nothing smoldering about the pair and their growing attraction for each other that was drawing them closer together). This movie also didn’t wow me in any particular way in the major moments, because some of the “tone” I was looking for simply didn’t exist and was replaced with campiness (the enchantress turning the prince into a beast was an “oh, bummer” moment, and was not devastating to me). The culmination of the beast getting shot three times in the back by Gaston while Belle yelled “stop!” also wasn’t very affecting. I found the repetitive fired shots really arbitrary and unnecessary. Instead of the exciting, close-order fight, and the saddening knife stab in the cartoon, we just got more gunshots… Woo-hoo…
The CGI was EVERYWHERE in the castle’s backdrop scenery, and the shots of gilt ceilings, gilt hallways, gilt staircases, etc. just got all kinds of repetitive to me after a while. They really needed a different shade to break up the continuous monochrome. The entire cast was okay, but I’m not going to label Emma Watson or anybody else’s performance “superb, Oscar worthy, or stellar.” Because it just wasn’t “all that.”
I’m well aware that this movie has now made records at the box office. It’s loved by millions of people. But I’m going to say that it was just an “okay and fair” representation of its cartoon counterpart. It wasn’t awful by any means, but I didn’t get the “joyful” vibe out of it, as I read that one reviewer did. I also shed not a single tear during the beast’s death, nor during this entire movie. I did tear up during the French La Belle et la Bete 2014. Make of that what you will.
This movie was fine as an entry into the live action pantheon of remakes for Disney. But I’m not going to “praise it as being better than all of the other live action remakes” we now have, because it just isn’t deserving of such praise. When compared to the likes of Maleficent, Cinderella, or The Jungle Book, this movie is literally “on par” with them. However, I notice that the tone is “off” a lot more in Beauty and the Beast. By the end of the movie, the story finds its true tone, but it swung around and it missed a lot to arrive there. I don’t hate this movie, but I’m not going to line up to watch it again and again.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far! Did you love the remake, only liked it, or did you dislike it? You can comment below.