Sunday, March 18, 2018

Beauty and the Beast (2017) (Movie Review)

    Ever sense 2010, Disney has been on a kick to remake the majority of their animated classics into live action films. Personally, I’ve had little interest in any of them, as I find the animated originals perfectly fine on their own. Then came the live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017, and I just knew I was going to see this one. While I still didn’t think it was necessary, I was still kind of excited to see one of my very favorite animated Disney movies brought to life in live action, and it seemed to open the door for new possibilities. Perhaps it would feature new songs and maybe it would expand the story in ways that the previous film couldn’t. I sat down for a viewing, kept my expectations mutual, and just tried to be open to whatever the experience might be. As expected, there was no beating the original, this film didn’t really need to exist, but in the plus column, I honestly found this a perfectly enjoyable diversion, and maybe even a little more charming then I anticipated.

        In general, this is a very strait forward re-telling of the original animated film. A selfish prince is transformed into a monster by an enchantress, and the terms of the spell are that he won’t regain his humanity until he learns to love and be loved in return. Not far away in a small town lives a young woman named Belle, who dreams of experiencing something greater then what her little home has to offer. All her hopes are blocked by one self-centered villager named Gaston, who aims to take Belle as his own prized wife. Meanwhile, during a travel, Belles father stumbles upon the Beasts enchanted castle, and is soon taken prisoner after stealing a rose from his garden. After finding the castle herself, Belle exchanges her life for her father, and thus, her unexpected journey to discover the soul within a monster begins. Naturally, the two don’t get along at first, but over time a bond forms between the two, and Belle in return becomes more of a house guest then a prisoner. Yes, this is a very straight-forward retelling of the original, and in this paint by numbers retread are mis-steps, but thankfully there’s also just enough little changes and added details that made this remake more than just a live action novelty.

      The cast for the most part fill their respective roles very well, and while little is added to develop the supporting characters, they at least convey some of the charm from the originals.  Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor and Ian Mckellen play the parts of the three principle enchanted objects fairly well, and on a side note, I loved the re-designs for both the wardrobe and especially the feather duster. Kevin Kline is excellent in the role of Belles father Maurice, and it’s a special case where not only is the character different from the original, but also largely superior. 

The quirky nature of the father is still present, but also reserved in favor of more genuinely touching moments. Truthfully, I think Belle and her father have the best chemistry of any characters in the film, as it felt perfectly believable, rather than just two actors going through the motions. On the flip side, I couldn’t say the same for Belles relationship with the beast. While the two have some wholesome moments, they just lacked the same magic of their animated counterparts. I feel like this film is too caught up in recreating famous moments rather than letting the motivations, passion or even emotions drive the story. The moment that seems to drive this point home for me is when the Beast and Belle have their big ballroom dance. While beautifully shot, I just feel that this scene lacks same humanity on display in the original. For an animated film, the two shared a wide range of expressions and mannerism in that one scene alone, where as in the live action version they just seem to stare blankly at each other. The one good thing about this couple is that they have some things to bond over. They both love books, and they can both relate to loosing a parent at a young age. So, little details like that were at least welcome.

      Now let’s finally talk about Belle. The original is still one of my all time favorite animated characters, so there was a lot to live up to in this film. In general, I thought Emma Watson gave a half-way descent performance, and by that, I mean that half the time she was very compelling in the role, while the other half she seemed to be acting on ado piolet. Joking aside, Emma Watson has proven herself a gifted actress, and there are absolutely times when I genuinely saw Belle alive and real as opposed to just a familiar face in a pretty dress. Unfortunately, the performance just isn’t consistent, and there are those select moments where it just looks like an actress going through the motions because they were in the script. One thing that stood out was her constant expression of looking pretty, but also kind of sad at the same time. I hate to sound like a broken record when comparing this film to the original, but once again the passion in the animated Belle’s portrayal, both from the voice actress and the talented animators just felt so much more alive, and she just had this natural warm presence. Still, for all her ups and down, Emma Watson managed to surpass my expectations, and was perfectly passable in the role. 

     The villain Gaston is likewise one of my favorite Disney characters, so I felt this live action portrayal also had some big shoes to fill. Thankfully, I thought Luke Evans absolutely shined in the role, kept me entertained every time he was one screen, and for the most part kept the same spirit of the original. The one down side is that for all of Luke Evans charisma, he’s still working with a script that doesn’t utilize Gaston’s full potential. For example, one of my favorite scenes from the original animated film was when Gaston got his wedding fully set up, ready to go, and all before even proposing to Belle, because he was just that self-confident he’d win the girl over on the dot. Then after Belle turns him down, Gaston is thrown into the mud, and we see our first glimpse of the vengeful villain behind the ego driven super model. The live action version by contrast features Gaston clumsily proposes to Belle, she turns him down, and then he just casually walks away with a quirky smile. It’s moments like that which make this remake feel only half as good as it’s animated counterpart.     

     With that said, I don’t mean to sound like a guy hating on this film just because he prefers the original, so let’s talk about what this film absolutely got right. First, it should go without saying that the film is incredibly gorgeous to look at. Seriously, the film crew put expert attention and detail to the color and set design. The layout of the film was both faithful to the originals design, yet also kind of unique looking. This film respectfully got two Oscar nominations for both the set and costume designs, and truthfully, I think this film earned both. I also liked that there was more added to the enchanted curse than just the prince and all the servants being transformed into a beast and enchanted objects. This time, the enchantress also erased any memory of the castle and its occupants from the people of the village, which fixed some glaring plot holes from its predecessor. She also cursed the forest to make sure no-one accidentally stumbled across the castle, except for those she willed to find it. I’ll admit, I didn’t care for that added detail that the enchanted occupants of the castle would be transformed into solid objects if the prince wouldn’t fall in love by his 21st year. Personally, I felt that the stakes were high enough without the looming fear of literal death hanging over head. Although, this did lead to one of the films more emotional highlights at the end of the film. No joke, that scene with the servants giving their final fair wells to each other got me in the feels more than anything else in the movie.  

     Another excellent addition was the added backstory of Belles late mother, which the original animated film completely glanced over. I’ll admit, the concept of a magic book transporting them to Belles old house seemed out of left field, but it again led to a very touching scene that added some layers to the characters. Although I think the concept of a mother dying from the plague might have been a bit too tense for a kid’s movie. My least favorite addition was this meandering sub-plot in which Gaston goes with Maurice to look for Belle in the woods, only for the former to betray the ladder and leave him for dead. This just felt like needless padding that kept us from better things. I did however love that the father stole a rose from the Beasts garden, which was a welcomed callback to the original 1740 fairytale book. The climax is kind of cool, as both the Beast and Gaston battle on a castle that’s falling apart around them.  

     Let’s finally talk about the musical numbers, because this was the one aspect of the film that was going to make it or break it for me. With the one exception of the classic “Beauty and the Beast” ballroom dance, I didn’t want to see a single song from the original animated film present here. I wanted this film to feature completely original songs that could make this film stand on its own and break from the shadow of its predecessor. Much to my annoyance, just about every song from the animated film was carried over into this movie, and while they were still enjoyable, they just came off as pointless recreations of timeless songs. There was definitely a lot of effort put into the re-construction of these musical numbers, but they just felt tired and slower than what the animated film could pull off so flawlessly. 

The one exception is that “The Mob Song” was shot, edited and paced very well here, and honestly felt more exciting to experience then its animated predecessor. There are at least a hand full of new songs, and thankfully I loved every one of them. The big show stealer was a new song sung by the Beast titled “Forevermore”. This is the kind of original song I wanted to hear in a musical remake of this sort, I loved the way it was shot, and it’s a treat to see the Beast get his own solo number. “Days in the Sun” is yet another excellent new song that might just surpass some of the originals in my opinion. The song “How Does a Moment Last Forever” leads to a beautiful little scene which conveys the story of Belles relationship with her father and longing for her mother all though music and visual storytelling, which was great. I’ve always been a sucker for Céline Dion, so hearing her sing this song just makes me melt inside. Of course, Céline Dion sang the original “Beauty and the Beast Song”, so it only felt right to bring her back for this new one. Quick side note, I loved the end credits, and how they revealed the cast in their respected roles.

     Before I wrap up this review, I feel the need to get something important out of the way. Disney’s original 1991 version of “Beauty and the Beast” does not hold a monopoly on adapting the source material, it just pulled it off extremely well, and with both original characters, concepts and ideas that weren’t even present in the classic fairytale. There have been countless variations of “Beauty and the Beast” over the years, and each with their own unique strengths or weaknesses depending on which version you watch. The issue with Disney’s 2017 version is that it isn’t that unique at all, as it really is just the 1991 version again in live action, and at some point, you just need to ask … was this really necessary? It’s not like the original had any major faults, I mean heck, it was the first animated movie in history to be nominated for best picture. Well, weather the 2017 version needed to be here or not, I admittedly still enjoyed it for what it was. It looked amazing, I loved the new songs, I still felt some charm of the original, and when it was over, I left smiling and feeling good. It’s not on par with the first, nor do I really even care to watch this version again, but I still didn’t regret it for a second. My guess is that if you go in thinking you’ll like this movie … you’ll probably love it. Then in reverse, if you think you’ll hate it, you’ll probably hate it. It’s just one of those films that will way on whatever perceived emotion you have for this kind of remake, and for me it landed right in the middle of the road.

I give the 2017 version of “Beauty and the Beast” 3 ½ stars out of five.