Beauty and the Beast: A modern adaptation of a Tale as Old as Time
By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
If your peer group is anything like mine, odds are you’ve heard some very mixed reviews about the latest Disney live action adaptation of Beauty and The Beast. I’ll preface by saying if you’re curious please go watch the film because I’m going to break the entire thing down which involves potentially spoiling it.
I have to say there are some things that the film did right and there were some choices made that derailed it. That’s why I’m going to break it all down and as you’ll see I’m really on the fence about this one. A good attempt, but maybe they would be better off if it wasn’t a musical? Anyway here we go…
We’ll start with the opening scene. The live action version has the same backstory as the 1991 animated version, but expands it further. We open with the Prince, who the studio still won’t tell us his name is Adam (seriously they never say it out loud). Anyway the Prince is being made up as fabulous as glam-era David Bowie for a big soiree.
We start with an original opening number which really didn’t do it for me, I’d much rather it just be a grandiose Viennese waltz as the lyrics were distracting and overall just not very good. So we sit through a minute of that before the enchantress shows up and you already know how that goes down. Then the film does something I really liked. They explain the outlines of this curse because the one thing that always bothered me in the original no one knew who the Prince was even though the castle is clearly within walking distance. So there, mystery solved they’re all cursed.
We cut to the village and meet Belle. (I can forgive for the lightly auto tuned singing because I actually really enjoyed how she is portrayed). But the musical sequence for the song “Belle”, oh dear god how could they ruin that? The original cartoon version gives us so much of Belle’s character in this sequence- the fact that her house is just far enough away from the village and that she’s the only person wearing blue really establish her as an outsider – here, her home is stuck right up in there and practically 60% of the cast is wearing blue.
However a few things that worked well, Belle wearing boots to work in as opposed to flats give her a more practical look as she is working on a farm and the flats would get shredded. Also nice, they have added in a couple of scenes to show Belle’s inventiveness as well as a scene where she’s teaching a young girl to read. I think these scenes just solidify her as a good role model which is what made the women of the Disney Renaissance stand out from the early era princesses.
Little things about the village bothered me. The Bimbettes who fawn over Gaston look awful. I get it, it’s a kid’s movie but they just look like porcelain dolls and they have the worst costuming in the whole film. To me it just didn’t look good, but maybe it works for other people. As for Gaston, Luke Evans is clearly a tenor and Gaston was originally a baritone so he just didn’t… wait for it… hit the right note for me. Seriously I did not like his singing or Josh Gad’s as Lefou, and I like Josh Gad, but every time he sang it was like listening to the snowman from Frozen all over again.
I’m also on the fence with Maurice, Belle’s father. Nothing bad about Kevin Kline’s acting, it’s just Maurice was this slightly eccentric inventor and this characterization is not that. He’s a man still grieving over his wife so overall he has a somber tone. Nothing about him would make him less trustworthy to the villagers which is why the town siding with Gaston to lock him away doesn’t make sense to me in this version. But first, I have some things I actually really enjoyed about the film.
Visually stunning, the animation was great especially on Cogsworth and I personally think Ewan McGregor steals the show as Lumiere. They also made a nod to the original fairy tale where Maurice gets into trouble for trying to acquire a rose for Belle- something that didn’t make it into the animated version but is present in the silent French film. One thing I was sad to see missing was the song “Human Again” which was originally missing but made its way back into the animated film after its original release because they had run out of budget for it in 1991. Instead we get a song, “Days in the Sun,” which made me want to barf, it was that bad.
Another strength the film has is it really builds on the relationship between Belle and the Beast. It feels more like the two are connecting because of that added backstory and the added interaction. It also helps that the two actually end up having shared interests. The costuming was great; I like how the Beast’s wardrobe becomes less animalistic and torn as he begins to embrace his humanity. Belle’s gown is just amazing.
The ballroom scene though has a couple things I found less than agreeable. For one I love Emma Thompson’s acting, but I did not enjoy her singing at all. If James Earl Jones is coming back for the Lion King I don’t understand why Angela Lansbury couldn’t just dub the singing. The other thing was the camera work… oh yes I hadn’t mentioned it until now but there were times where someone needed to slap those cameramen. Issues with focusing, too much blur, too much motion- it was nauseating. Especially in the library, likely there are no actual books to focus on but making a giant blur of stuff with no object in focus just made it so much worse.
Now the big beef most people had was the Beast’s big solo number, “Evermore,” an original, but really clunky song that is in the scene where Belle rides off to save her father from the villagers who are all standing in line to give Gaston a hand- shake. Gaston’s evilness is more subtle in the animated feature. Here he is as subtle as your car alarm going off at 4am on a Saturday and your neighbor pounding your door to get your butt out of bed.
We’re near the climax. Gaston pulls out a flintlock pistol which is proper for the time period. The thing is he fires 3 rounds and it was too quick to be realistic because he’s in the dark and there’s just no way he could have done it that fast, unless he’s got extra guns in his belt but that wouldn’t make sense since he rushed to collect this one after it was dropped.
Then the Beast turns back into the Prince. I can’t help but feel he was more attractive as the beast which is weird because Dan Stevens isn’t an unattractive actor but the make up just makes him look so, eww. Kinda like he’s trying to cosplay Lestat from Interview with the Vampire and used too much baby powder. Fun trivia for you, the Beast is reading King Arthur in one scene and Dan Stevens plays Sir Lancelot in Night at the Museum 3, I thought that was pretty meta. (On a side note, Night is not a fantastic movie but it’s a lot of fun if you haven’t seen it yet and it was Robin William’s final role.)
This review wouldn’t be complete without discussing some of the alleged controversy. So odds are if you’ve seen the news or turned on a computer in the last 30 days you’ve heard that Disney was proud to have its first gay character coming to terms with their sexuality and even have a love scene featured in the major film… except the problem is they totally don’t and there totally isn’t.
The character in question is Lefou; I wasn’t totally on board with making him gay but I wasn’t opposed to it. I figure if you’re going to have representation it should be a more positive character or at least one who is more prevalent in the film. In the cartoon Lefou is just Gaston’s little lackey who does some of the dirty work. The way it was pitched was Lefou is supposed to realize that his admiration for Gaston is actually attraction and that he truly wants to be with him… yeah maybe in a different movie but certainly not in this one. I don’t sense any sexual or romantic desire.
During the raid on the castle there’s a scene where the wardrobe attacks and three men end up fully made up wearing dresses and one of them seems to like it as he offers the camera a wink. At the end of the film this man is seen dancing with Lefou at a ball. There’s no alleged love scene- no kissing, not even a gentle caressing, nothing! If that’s what we’re calling a ground breaking moment for LBGTQ community then I’m calling bologna. I’m honestly not sure which upsets me more- the fact the advertisements were pandering, the fact that these occurrences got the film banned in certain theaters, or the fact that this was a poor excuse for diversity in film.
In sum I guess the best way to describe 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is this… imagine a beautiful tiered cake, it’s got gorgeous frosting work and the cake is super delicious and moist but on top you have all this decorative crap that you can’t eat and inside they’ve filled the damn thing with potpourri which smells lovely but isn’t edible. They took a good source material and buggered it up with all this extra unnecessary stuff. I only hope that the fact that’ve made the executive decision to not make the live action Mulan a musical will only help them focus on telling a better and more cinematic story.