Good Beast. Bad Belle. Great side characters.

 So Beauty and the Beast (2017) has just been released in the UK and the hype surrounding this film has been immense. Ever since Emma Watson tweeted that she would be playing the famous Disney heroine Belle, there arguably could not have been a better pick. Watson is a skilled actress, intelligent, passionate feminist and all around nice person, she truly is the ideal role model for young girls. Naturally she would be perfect for Disney’s remake that would depict an empowered and updated Belle.

Can anything truly beat the original movie? Never, the animated Disney classics will always have that touch of magic that dazzled audiences. There are certain things you can do much better with animation than live action. However times have changed and live action remakes are getting more and more popular and making more and more money, so of course Disney will continue the trend. The Jungle Book and Cinderella remakes proved to be huge successes and even earned some prestigious awards at the Oscars and BAFTAs. This proves that the films are not just money making machines but also critically appreciated.

Does BATB 2017 live up to its predecessors…?

(sigh)

Belle

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Belle played by Emma Watson

Oh god I didn’t want to have to say this, but Watson’s acting was awful. Her performance seemed very held back and stilted, you just don’t feel she is throwing herself into the role. Don’t get me wrong she has the female empowerment act perfected, Belle is much more spirited and stronger than her animated counterpart. She teaches girls to read, actually invents her own washing machine, rebuffs Gaston much more fiercely and even tries to escape when captured by the Beast. In her dialogue and actions Watson creates the perfect strong female character for young girls to aspire to. And that is precisely the problem, Watson says the lines and carries out the actions but doesn’t become Belle.

She seems to be playing herself.

What made Belle so special wasn’t just her outcast nature and strength, but also her sweetness, kindness and generosity which Watson brings none of.

Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with a strong female character, but movies these days, particularly the updated fairy tales, sadly fall into the trap of turning their heroines into strong, independent zombies with no personality. Being strong is their only quality. Snow White and the Huntsman made this mistake by making Snow White a bland and boring heroine (thanks Kristen Stewart), but hey it’s ok because she wears armour and fights alongside the men right? Kenneth Branagh was smart enough to make his 2015 Cinderella, played brilliantly by Lily James, a stronger and less passive character who was still Cinderella. She was the same sweet, innocent and kind heroine we remember her to be but with a 2015 empowered update. It is the perfect balance that Disney remakes should take example from, but sadly the director of BATB 2017 takes the Snow White approach.

I honestly cringed each time Belle came on screen.

(SPOLIER) To give you a specific example of this look no further than how rushed this film is, we don’t get a chance to breathe and see the reaction of characters taking a moment in. Belle is so busy talking and running around that she never gets a chance to stop and allow the audience to react to situations with her. A key scene is when Belle’s washing machine invention is destroyed by the villagers as punishment for her teaching a girl to read. Belle morosely picks her wet clothes off the floor and a mere SECOND LATER we switch to the next scene. We don’t see Belle upset or even have a few moments focussed on her face to see any reaction, the film simply says ‘Belle is different and ostracised by the villagers, see them destroy her obvious symbol of empowerment.’ Yes, message received, but what about Belle’s character and personality?

What was great about the original Belle was that animators slowed down and revealed so much of her personality through just her expressions. The film is able to pause on Belle’s face so we truly see what is going through her mind. A lot of great acting is in the body language and face, sometimes you don’t even have to speak, Watson or at least the direction she was given missed this idea completely.

 

BATB 2017 seems obsessed with ticking off scenes from the original film for the sake of copying them and forgetting that in order to relate to a character, we need to drink in their every moment at an even pace.

Beast

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Beast played by Dan Stevens

This now brings me to Beast who is played ably by Dan Stevens. Like many other characters the Beast is given a much more detailed back story. Unlike the original film’s stained glass storytelling that visually gave us an idea of the Beast’s past life, BATB 2017 actually reveals more about the Beast’s history. We see less a cartoonish animal and a more tortured and complicated soul who slowly matures throughout the film. This is a change that is done well compared to the original, very similar to Richard Madden’s Prince Charming in Cinderella. The CGI for his face and body is kind of eh…its passable, but still looks weird compared to the more simple hand drawn animation of BATB 2017.

Now another gripe. The love story between Belle and the Beast was very forced. The original film showed genuine love grow between the two characters and as a result, provoked such a happy reaction when they finally got together. The problem with BATB 2017 is that although Belle and Beast grow and change throughout the film, there is no indication of any romance between them. The Beast seems to learn to mature and become a more caring person while Belle learns the truth about her mother and her own identity. Point is the characters work well as good friends rather than lovers, they seem to learn more about themselves and come to terms with their own issues. For the sake of the story they have to fall in love, the film however focussed far more on them as individuals rather than as a couple which left no room for real romance. What a shame.

Side characters

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Lumiere played by Ewan McGregor

We now come to the real stars of the movie.

The side characters are without a doubt the best thing about the film. Gaston, LeFou, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts, Chip, Madame Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza completely stole the show from Belle and the Beast.

The voice acting was phenomenal for the animated castle objects particularly from McGregor and Thompson who absolutely bring the characters to life. Another distinct difference from the original movie is the castle objects are given deeper character development. They do no serve the sole purpose of comic reliefs who try to get the main characters together, but rather emphasis is laid on the curse and its effect on them. The characters actually explain the devastating effect the curse has had on their lives and how desperate they are to turn back into humans and be with the people they love again. Who ever thought animated furniture could make you cry?

Luke Evans made for a decent Gaston and managed to give the egotistical oaf his own interpretation, much like Beast we see a less cartoonish character and a more subtle performance. The only disappointment is that Evans singing in this role in incredibly weak and not the powerhouse singing that he is known for. Gad as LeFou actually sings more powerfully than Evans, what a missed opportunity!

By the way, LeFou is without a doubt the best character in this film, great singing and wonderful comedy as well as surprising drama.

Seriously, create a spin off movie just for Josh Gad and I will watch it.

LeFou
LeFou played by Josh Gad

Costumes

The costumes are a delight in this film and absolutely deserve a best costume design nomination for the 2018 Oscars or at least the BAFTAs. Much like Branagh’s Cinderella we get beautifully designed, bold and colourful costumes that really give the film that whimsical, Disney feel. Sadly we come to another let down, Belle’s iconic yellow dress. The 2017 yellow dress is a HUGE disappointment. This is meant to be the showstopper out of all the outfits, the dress that takes your breath away as Belle sways in the Beast’s arms to that iconic song. What did we get? An incredibly plain looking gown that does not hold a candle to the original 1991 masterpiece. It is understandable that the film makers wanted to give the dress a more realistic update that can be merchandised, BUT COME ON! Where’s the sparkle? Where’s the effort? Branagh’s Cinderella gown made jaws drop and was one of the most memorable aspects of the film, he was able to create an original gown that evolved from the animated film. BATB 2017 seems to have regressed from that gorgeous, ruffled, sun coloured gown.

Songs

The movie surprisingly keeps the same songs from the original since it is a mirror for mirror remake. We hear classic songs such as “Beauty and the Beast”, “Belle (Little Town)” and even a fantastic redoing of “Be our Guest” sung brilliantly by McGregor. Seriously, “Be our Guest” is without a doubt the most memorable song in the new film that not only is shot by shot the same as the animated song, but dazzles with impressive CGI and colours. What can I say, you can’t help but smile as all the nostalgia comes flooding back. Despite the shoddy acting, Watson has a decent singing voice that is actually passable despite her not being a trained singer.

A key addition to the movie are four new songs written by Alan Menken that are superb and perfectly compliment the updated story and character development.

Nice to see BATB 2017 actually have the original songs unlike Cinderella and The Jungle Book which was a sore disappointment.

Heres a clip from YouTube: Disney Movie Trailers

CGI

The setting was pleasing to look at with good set design and CGI done right, the castle in particular looked ravishingly gothic and beautiful. One complaint from a lot of viewers was the CGI makeovers of the castle object characters, Mrs Potts apparently scared a few people. Now the new looks aren’t necessarily bad as they have to be updated for live action, however there are certain things animation just does better. With BATB 1991 we saw actual expressions on the character’s faces thanks to traditional hand drawn animation, this made the characters more relatable and human since we could easily see their emotional expressions. BATB 2017 however has to compensate with heavy computer animation that sadly does not create convincing facial expressions all the time. It’s not awful but just not as relatable, which makes you thankful for the wonderful voice acting.

Other details

BATB 2017 succeeds in distinguishing itself from the original film to give it its own identity. We see new additions to the story such as the exploration of Belle’s mother and back stories to the side characters. Another nice touch is the effect of the moulting rose. In BATB 1991 the rose simply sheds one petal at a time until the curse is complete, in BATB 2017 as each petal sheds the castle also falls apart bit by bit and the castle object characters slowly become more and more inanimate. Its new touches like this that add a sense of individuality and detail to the new film.

Final point! Yes there is a gay character in the 2017 version…kind of. Controversy arose when it was announced that the character LeFou would be an exclusively gay character, cue the angry Alabama Theatre boycott. Let’s just set things straight and calm down, I would say there are HINTS that LeFou is gay. Very obvious hints mind you, but there is no gay kiss if you see what I mean.

Josh Gad gives a fine performance and you can interpret his character in this version all you want, just don’t believe the hype and expect the film to announce that this character is actually gay.

Like many new kids shows and movies appealing to the LGBT crowd, we only get hints since this is a slow moving change.

I mean really? A gay character calls for a boycott but marrying a man you met after a few days is fine?

You have to love the irony.

I really wanted to like this movie, it had all the ingredients. A perfect lead actress, great cast and nostalgia drunken viewers. There is so much that is great about this movie (side characters, songs, setting, costumes) and so much bad (EMMMA FRICKIN WATSON). I would watch it again just for how gorgeous it looked, but sadly it doesn’t live up to previous live action remakes due to a poor lead actress and forced love story that does not match the magic of the original animated classic.

Be our guest? No thanks.

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