Film Review – Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Disney is on a live action(ish) remake kick of their classic animated films. Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and now Beauty and the Beast. The original is a Disney classic, which opened in theatres in 1991, and garnered two Academy Awards and was nominated for two others including Best Picture. Disney is taking a huge risk because the original was so well-received by critics and fans. Not surprisingly, there is massive attention on this new version, enough to break some YouTube trailer records.
The story of Beauty and the Beast (2017) is almost exactly the same as the 1991 original. A Beast (Dan Stevens) must find someone to love him to break the spell on him and his help in his enchanted castle. Along comes Belle (Emma Watson) who saves her father (Kevin Kline) from imprisonment by the Beast and stays with his instead. Hope is high by all that live in the castle that the spell may be broken by the new girl in town, Belle. Of course, the Beast is scary and threatens the massive manhood of Gaston (Luke Evans) who also has an interest in Belle.
The longstanding issue I have had with the new film is the Beast. He is CGI and just looks weird. Put this character up against a real person on screen, Belle, and the stark contrasts are exaggerated. Did the film’s producers think of using practical makeup instead of CGI? This may not have worked either, so it may have been damned if you, damned if you don’t situation, but this is a huge hurdle to overcome when you have a main character who is not in human form.
The 1991 film is a musical, and the 2017 remake is also one. With an increased runtime of over two hours, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman added a couple more songs to the film. This should delight the original’s fans, but alas, they are not sung by Paige O’Hara or Robby Benson.
When it comes to a live action remake, in this day and age, you need recognizable and bankable actors in the title roles. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens (while not really seen for almost all of the film) are it for Disney. However, this is not just an acting role, but also a singing role. Other than the CGI Beast, another letdown is Emma Watson’s singing voice. Yes, she can sing, but she cannot belt out the tunes like any singer in a Broadway musical. Her voice is lost to the score and the stronger singers in the cast. It is a fine line to tread for Disney. Perhaps if they wanted a stronger singing voice, they would have lost the bankability of the actress or the actress may not have looked like Belle.
The charm of the original is the enchanted objects or the servants under a spell. The objects are CGI, of course, and provide for much of the comedy of the film. While most of the actors are not seen until the end, their voices and their singing do fill up the film quite nicely. Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra MacDonald, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are the lead enchanted objects’ voices. Emma Thompson singing “Beauty and the Beast” had me a bit teary, but I still prefer Angela Lansbury’s version. Unfortunately, Ewan McGregor’s “Be Our Guest” can’t hold a candle (yes, that’s a pun) to Jerry Orbach’s version.
One cannot review Beauty and the Beast (2017) without commenting on Luke Evans’ Gaston and his sidekick LeFou played by Josh Gad. Evans’ Gaston is the highlight of the film and he certainly embraced the narcissic, oblivious character 100 percent. Even though Evans does not have as deep a voice compared to the original’s Richard White, it works. Gaston and LeFou provide quite a bit of comic relief to the film, along with the enchanted objects. While director Bill Condon and Disney made quite a publicity nightmare for themselves with the release of the news of LeFou being gay, it really is not a big deal in the film. If I had not been told that beforehand, I would have just thought he was a bit feminine. I don’t think I would have left the theatre saying, “Wow, LeFou is gay!” Controversy aside, Josh Gad is quite fantastic as LeFou and is the moral center of that pair with a pinch of self-awareness of how ridiculous the pair of them really is.
Beauty and the Beast (2017) is a decent remake of a fantastic animated film. Only time will tell if the film will garner any award nominations at the end of the year. The film is a good mix of the Broadway version of the film and the original, complete with an overture at the beginning, which hopefully will not confuse many audience members. The bottom line is that it is a good film with a few problems that cannot be overlooked. This film will never escape the shadow of the superior Beauty and the Beast (1991) and comparisons will continually be drawn between the two. It will never be able to stand alone, and this is a problem for all the Disney live action remakes.