Beauty and the Beast, Belle, Beast, Dan Stevens, Emma Watson

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017) “Tale Told Nearly As Well As Last Time”

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast was the most critically acclaimed animated Disney feature since Snow White, so the live-action turn was going to get incredible scrutiny even before Jon Favreau made a better Jungle Book than either the Disney animated film or the Kipling books.  So whomever followed that was going to have a high bar to clear or even match, and when it was followed by Beauty and the Beast, the early praise and jaw-dropping trailers we’d been seeing for nearly a year have experienced a load of critical backlash in the last month.  It IS a very difficult movie to review and compare to the original, but this is not the 70% film Rotten Tomatoes currently rates it at.  While this live action version of Beauty and the Beast does not reach the perfection of the 1991 film, it is the second fantastic musical we’ve had released for the screen in three months (at some point I may have to stop saying I hate musicals).  While comparisons can’t be avoided, and there are some pitfalls, Beauty and the Beast continues a stream of quality re-imaginings of Disney’s animated works, presenting an absolutely gorgeous, moving, film.

Belle, Emma Watson, Beauty and the BeastIt’s easiest if you don’t go into the film with the 1991 film’s script clutched firmly in hand like the Bible, because the screenplay (reworked by The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘s Stephen Chblosky) makes a lot of diversions, additions, sidetrips, and most of them come in the film’s first half.  Disney is responsible for setting up the expectation of a clone by mirroring the film’s trailers with the 1991 film and showing little that didn’t deviate from the original.  Emma Watson’s Belle is a much more feminist Belle than the animated version’s (it was actually a condition of her doing the film), her back story and the Beast’s are more explored, Belle’s parents come into play, there’s more with the Enchantress, LeFou & Gaston’s….whatever, and the falling in love is much  extended from the animated film.

Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Beast, Belle, Beauty and the Beast

If any of this sounds like heresy to you, then you’re probably going to hate the film.  However, Favreau didn’t make a better Jungle Book by being a slave to Kipling or Disney.  He tried to capture the best of both and infuse it with his own take to make the best film he could, and I would argue that largely director Bill Condon tries to do the same.  Some of the meanderings didn’t work as well for me as others.  I don’t really like LeFou very much in the animated film so expanding his role wasn’t something I was crazy about.  Kevin Kline is so endearing as Belle’s father, you can’t really begrudge his expanded role or finding out about Belle’s mother, and he’s given one of the film’s best new songs, but the whole subplot could probably have been cut.  There are parts of the Enchantress’ role that are confusing in the end, but they improve the beginning of the film in the curse scene and fill a logical hole in the animated film that no one seems to remember there’s this giant castle down the road.  Also, I thought Emma Watson and Dan Stevens had great chemistry and they way they have them fall in love seemed much more organic than it did in even the original.

Gaston, Luke Evans, Beauty and the Beast

In addition to Watson, Stevens, Kline, you have Luke Evans as an even viler Gaston than in the animated film, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and more in a tremendously strong ensemble cast.  Again, if you stack them against Angela Lansbury, David Odgen Stiers, Jerry Orbach, and the vocal cast from the original film, you’re just going to find yourself at odds with watching a movie and enjoying it rather than trying to hold it up against the light of the last film to see if the match.  Why should they word-for-word, dot-for-dot?   It would be boring if they did, and if you do want to compare, I think Watson and especially Dan Stevens, give much better performances than the leads from the animated film.

Dan Stevens, Beast, Beauty and the Beast

In fact, we’re going to devote an entire paragraph to talk about the best and most frustrating thing about this whole film: the Beast.  Dan Stevens, who most people know from his work on Downton Abbey, gives the best a much better, deeper voice than Robbie Benson did.  He’s also given THE most spectacular improvement in the film’s soundtrack with a “Music of the Night”-level quality song called “Evermore” that he sings after the ballroom scene as he climbs his crumbling castle in increasing desperation to keep Belle in view as she rides off.  It’s THAT good, and feels so right at that point in the story.  I think the Best Song Oscar has pretty much been nailed down three months into the year.  The problem: the Beast is never consistently real-looking.  In close-up or stationary shots he is, but the more he’s forced to move and the greater the distance is he’s shockingly wooden in his animation.  Obviously this is not Stevens’ fault, though the decision to not fully mo-cap the character and use a blend that had Stevens wearing a forty pound suit, on ten foot stilts and wearing prosthetic fangs can I think be identified as the scenes that stand out as visually rocky.  Why would you even try doing that? In a film that is so beautiful and so perfect, I can’t believe they couldn’t nail that given they brought an entire Jungle to photorealistic life last year, but here’s a short video of Dan Stevens talking about what he had to go through.

landscape-1478513245-beauty-and-the-beast-house-staff

Because there’s no comparison to be made to the old soundtrack and have the new film the winner, I actually enjoyed the new songs written for the film more than I enjoyed the renditions of the classics.  Not that any of the old ones were done poorly (except I hate the credits version of “Beauty and the Beast”….they brought Celine Dion back to give her Kevin Kline’s new song for the credits, is there no love for Peabo Bryson?  LOVE THE PEAB!!!).

Belle, Beast, Dan Stevens, Emma Watson, Beauty and the Beast

It’s not perfect, but it’s not the panicked disaster that some critics have been reporting back on the last month.  It opened to a March-record $370 million worldwide and will no doubt be Disney’s first billion dollar film of the year.  Really the only question is will they have more than the four (and they were inches short of five) that they had last year.  Tale well told!

9.25/10

Beauty and the Beast, Emma Watson, Belle, Beast

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017) “Tale Told Nearly As Well As Last Time””

  1. I just want to be absolutely clear on this: Stevens performed the role on stilts, in an enormous suit? If they were going to digitize him anyway, why? In this day and age, when you can turn any actor into any character, human or not, why would you force an actor to try and give a good performance like that?

    I will say I’m looking forward to the Beast’s new song. As a kid I had what I can now recognize as an obsessive interest in the Phantom of the Opera, including the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and when I saw the original Beauty and the Beast I was not as blown away as everyone, simply because there was not enough sadness and gravitas to the Beast, mainly because he did not have a SINGLE SONG (that verse in “Something There” doesn’t count) much less one where he poured out all his angst. I know, it was a Disney cartoon, and it was the early 90’s, and they were still testing the waters of how far they could push things, but it still left an emotional hole in the film, according to the younger version of me, who was correct.

    I’m glad I read your review, because I’ve read other things about this movie that give me pause. I’ve read that Belle invented a washing machine, and that the Beast is able to leave the castle via a magic book, but is invisible. I’ve also read that Gaston and LeFou accompany Maurice to the castle, and abandon him there. These things sound like completely unnecessary padding that might actually diminish the film. For example, the washing machine. Belle might be trapped by the Beast, but she was trapped beforehand too, in the village, and if machines are doing the housework for her, it diminishes her predicament and robs her situation of poignancy. If she finds a way out of her metaphorical prison, that belongs at the end, not the beginning.

    I don’t understand why the movie had to be padded out to two hours and ten minutes. I know that these days, big action movies like TF’s often have gargantuan run times, to give people the feeling that they’re getting a lot of bang for their buck, even if that flies in the face of the longstanding Hollywood rule about most films being two hours or less, with only a few exceptions. But I don’t get the impulse to make a fairy tale musical that is over two hours, and when I heard they had done it, I knew the film was not going to be as good as it could have been, even if it turned out to be fantastic. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of how much I’m typing as I express this.

    But I have come to trust your reviews, and now I’m looking forward to this without any reservations. I’m seeing it over the weekend and I have to say, I think I’ll appreciate it after a long week. I get the appeal of these live action remakes. The tension between the familiar and the new is what holds your interest. I’ve gone from detesting Disney’s live action strategy to loving it. I say bring on more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok, I just updated the review with a short clip with Stevens talking about what they put him through, but that decidsion is dumbfounding to me given that they had so much success simply CGI’ng an entire jungle the previous year, but they combined practical effects, mo-cap, and costume/prosthetics (THEY MADE THE MAN WEAR FANGS). As it is my #1 criticism of the film and I know why now it looks so dodgy at times, it makes me nuts. The running time is 2hr 2min if that seven minutes makes you feel better. Every thing you mention is in the film. I am very hesitant to address them individually because they tie into other things that I thought were good additions. Emma Watson made Belle being more capable (and among the Disney princesses, Belle’s pretty capable to begin with) a stipulation of her signing on, so hence the laundry machine which she devises while waiting for Maurice to return from the market and she also teaches a child to read while her machine is doing the work. Then the rest of the town tears apart her abomination and basically it’s a redundant point made in the song “Belle” but none of those things she does is out of character for Belle. You just needed Condon to be a little more ruthless with things. Kline’s Maurice is much less addled than the cartoon. He makes intricate clocks rather than crazy inventions and he and Belle have a relationship making these that is very much Henry/Radar from MASH and it’s kinda adorable. The book the Enchantress gives the Beast is a bit brilliant because of how he views it versus how Belle does. The Enchantress is largely beefed up well, but I’m a little puzzled at a few things with her that I’d like your feedback on, also there was a line about the Beast’s upbringing that nearly slipped me out of my chair and I don’t know if it was me or not so let me know how if anything strikes you. But, man, did they hit a home run giving Beast his moment, and in the score, the motif from Evermore is used almost as much as the main titles, so clearly they knew what they had.

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