Tale as old as time… but is it worth seeing again this time? Here’s my Beauty and the Beast 2017 Review.
I have the great fortune of living walking distance from a cinema. Granted that it’s a 20 minute walk up and down some hills that even some cars will struggle on, but even so. Tonight as I was choosing a movie to watch, I was easily able to extend my selection to those at my local Event given its proximity. I chose to brave the rain and have a look at Disney‘s latest live adaption remake in a string of remakes that won’t be ending any time soon. It’s Beauty and the Beast.
Everyone has seen this movie. It’s an award winner. I’ve seen the original movie so many times I could play it with my eyes closed and recite all of it. I own the extended cut, and even have seen it at local theatre productions on a few occasions. You could say I’m quite well versed in the lore.
So, a few things for this review. Given my background with the story, I will be unable to avoid my comparisons to its 1991 counterpart and its on-stage interpretations. I’m also not a huge fan of the gaga Hollywood sort of love stories that get sold to us a lot of the time, and prefer more realistic portrayals of the ins and outs of romance. Finally, I’m a grown man and perhaps outside of the target audience of this film. Either way, let’s have a look at this new take on the timeless tale of Beauty and the Beast.
A director’s cut rather than a shot for shot remake
First off to mention is that this is not a straight remake of the 1991 animated feature. Like The Jungle Book before it, the live action retelling of this tale is a CGI heavy affair that takes many things straight from the original, but refreshingly changes or adapts quite a few components of the original story. One trailer for the movie was a shot for shot comparison, leaving me thinking it would be frame for frame equivalence throughout, so I was glad to see there was actually a sizable deviation from the original in a few ways, for much better as well as much worse.
I think this is a quick summary of my review. Hopefully you’re still with me so far. It’s about to get encouraging, and also potentially offensive to some.
The stand out performances
I wanted to make a special mention to a few members of the cast who were absolute stand outs. The first two I put in the category of show stealers. We’re talking Ian McKellen as Cogsworth who owns every second of screen time he gets, as well as perhaps the real star of the show this time around, Luke Evans as Captain Gaston. Reading a lot of reviews before the movie, I heard so much about how Gaston was the character who owned the movie, and it’s so hard to explain, but he really is. It’s like the 1991 Gaston got fused with Napoleon, and he is fantastic as an endearing lowlife, as well as a threatening villain.
The next echelon of performances I would say are Mr French Kiss himself, Kevin Kline as Maurice, and Emma Watson as Belle. They have a great dynamic together, and their performances are constantly believable and at times beautiful. More on that a bit later (mainly looking at Belle). Both characters have a real backstory this time that takes the story to a new height. I’m glad these performances were so strong, as they carried the film through its weaker moments and performances.
Next I would have to put the Beast, Dan Stevens. The Beast more than anyone benefited from a shift in character and a fleshed out backstory, and Dan delivered his lines with brilliance. However, some very mixed technical issues held his character back for me at different points. More on that later.
Honourable mention to the costume department too. They truly captured this period in French history very well. That iconic Beast suit has never looked so good (except maybe Patrick Dempsey’s version in Enchanted).
Everyone else’s performances I’m afraid kinda didn’t really… do it… for me…
I think the main culprit is actually an attempt to add a French accent to most of the performances outside the ones listed above. And it just doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. The actors and actresses try, but it’s just too comical.
And some of the characters sounded like their entire performance wasn’t even re-listened to. Sounds like a harsh criticism, but if you see the film, let me know if you got the same vibe I did from a few of them. It really takes you out of some moments that should be stronger than they are. Thankfully the majority from the main characters was pretty solid, but the supporting cast really were at a stark contrast in terms of performance quality.
It’s definitely a musical
Make no doubts about it. This is a musical. This is kinda like Beauty and the Beast The Stage Production, rewritten by its original copyright holders. And I gotta say, after the first song, I was smiling big. The production values and choreography are pretty great for most of the songs.
As are the vocal performances. Dan Stevens and Emma Watson fortunately thrive in slightly different timbres to their original performers, and bring something new to their characters in that regard. I’ll even through in a slight credit to Ewan McGregor (whom we have all heard showcase his great pipes in some Jane Austen roles and musicals), who is great on the higher octaves in his songs. Too bad about that French accent which drags down the rest of his performance.
We have almost every song from the original revisited here. With some slight alterations to some lyrics.
And there are also some exceptions. The extended cut Human Again is reduced to a single line of dialogue in this version, and the song Change in Me from the stage production is not present. This is largely due to a huge change to the character of Beast, which I will discuss later (I keep saying that, but I’ll get there eventually).
I absolutely have to mention three new songs about childhood and finding happiness that seem to have been threaded together throughout the film. They feature absolutely beautiful lyrics (rivaling the title song for excellence in my opinion… no, I’m not kidding), as well as some strong vocal performances from a multitude of characters who perform these songs. Special shoutout to the reprises performed by Beast and Belle. Their lyrical content, addition to the story, and performances are nothing short of wonderful. I think these songs were probably my second favourite new part of the movie. The love story was my favourite part. More on that further down.
I do have to admit though, the ballroom scene had stronger story significance than ever (and the start was wonderful), but I did wish that the amazing version produced by Celine Dion could’ve been playing during this scene instead. Just cause you can’t beat Celine. We really were spoiled in the 90s.
Hit and miss tones
I did have some problems through the first hour of the film where there was what I felt to be a vast tonal inconsistency present. We had some very serious or focused characters – Belle, Maurice, Gaston, Beast – and then we had a lot of other characters who felt like they were part of a story from another movie. Or, they changed tone so drastically or so quickly that it just felt weird. I dunno how to explain it without spoiling complete details of the movie, so I won’t. Just to say that this took me out at some points, when you’d have a very strong moment between Belle and Beast, only for some other character to do something or add some extremely out of place comical visual effect to sour or confuse the moment. Perhaps it’s just because I’m not the target demographic.
Hit and miss CGI
Disney’s remake of The Jungle Book had everyone in awe of how remarkable its CGI work was. It’s a movie that’s going to age very well. Unfortunately, The Jungle Book this ain’t. The Beauty and the Beast 2017 remake is almost entirely CG in terms of locations, props, and many characters, and… they just don’t really look that great. There are some moments that look pretty good, but even those there is a real cartoony look present that clashes with the more serious tones of the film. There are quite a number of moments, and even characters (like Mrs Potts and Chip which unfortunately robbed their shine in any scene they were in) that just consistently looked like they were from a game released for the PlayStation 2… and some locations even looked like backdrops I’ve seen in some of the PS1 games I own. Very surprising. It was very obvious that certain teams on the animation team had less budget or less time than some of the other scenes, and I wish it were not so. Even that iconic ballroom looked rather drab… and the CGI in the 1991 version felt better and more iconic than what was on display here.
Above I mentioned that Beast was hurt by this hit and miss CGI as well. Many reviewers I watched said that the Beast effects struck them as weird and took them a while to warm up to, and I found it the same. But I think I worked out what it was. For the most part his face looks fine and shows a real warmth and reality to his emotional state, which is really nice. But at various points in the movie, Beast is wearing two different capes that cover his shoulders, back, and part of his chest, and the capes just look… awful. Whenever Beast was out of the capes, he looked actually really great. That seemed to be the difference maker. Unfortunately because Beast is such a title character and the love story is so much more tangible this time around, he really needed to feel like he was “there” at least 90% of the time, rather than the 50-60% of the time where the effect looks good.
Goodbye Stockholm Syndrome… a wonderful look at love
Here is the biggest takeaway for me from this new version of Beauty and the Beast. This is actually a rather wonderful love story. The original Beauty and the Beast has its fans, but it always faces criticisms of Stockholm Syndrome (the whole captor/captive dynamic), the fact that Beast actually ends up transforming into a gorgeous version of Fabio even after the film’s message about beauty being within, and also the fact that all you need to do is give a girl a library and she’ll fall in love with you. In the extended cut, during the song Human Again, we would see that Belle taught Beast how to read, and Beast’s lack of understanding with Belle’s patience was a factor in their love. During the stage production, Beast also discusses his journey towards being a gentleman… “a gentle… man”.
All of that is different this time around. This is a story about people who misunderstand each other, find commonalities, and build from there. This is ultimately a movie about friends falling in love.
I’ll put a minor spoiler warning here if you don’t want to hear any more than that. I won’t spoil major details but I will talk more about the key changes to Beast’s character here. Jump to the next heading if you don’t want to read it.
The biggest change this time are the backstories of both Beast and Belle, and what was really wonderful was seeing them both discover where they both came from. This process completely cancels out the “prisoner” dynamic present in the last film, where their care for each other grows more over time, and from very early on it is clear that Belle is moved by compassion and is there by choice. The other major change is that Beast is actually an educated prince, rather than a spoilt brat who had his servants read to him. It was absolutely charming to see Belle and Beast discover how much they had in common even though they lived worlds apart, to see them discuss the books that they had read, to watch them gradually begin to grow closer. Love is friendship on fire, and this version of the story absolutely exemplifies that in a way I didn’t expect it to. Ironically, in a movie about an enchanted castle and a cursed man, we see a rather realistic portrayal about how friends fall in love. When the film approaches “There May Be Something There That Wasn’t There Before”, the build mirrored so many relationships I’ve seen occur in my own life that it was truly moving.
And that scene where Beast confesses his feelings to Belle is so real. Dem feels man. Dem feels. Winter turns to spring, and indeed it did.
“That” moment and “that” character…
I can’t talk about this movie without making mention to a character and a moment making headlines the world over, resulting in the boycotting of Disney and all the rest of it. Prior to the release of this film, the director came out and touted his happiness over an “openly gay moment” and gay character in the film, that of the character Lefou. As a devout Christian myself with a number of friends who are parents, I had a vested interest in how this portrayal may work out in a movie aimed at children.
And… I gotta say… I think the character in the 1991 version of the film is far worse in that regard. The “moment” is about 3 seconds long, not really consequential or “hard to watch” in any way, and the themes across the character throughout the movie really aren’t overt at all. In fact, if I were a member of the LBGT+ community, I would probably be annoyed or offended that they took a joke character and gave him so many weird mannerisms and moments. If you have kids, the hype around the moment is about 3000% worse than what actually happens in the movie, and it could be compared to Bugs Bunny dressing drag or cartoon characters getting close in comical fashion. He’s even asked throughout the movie why he can’t get a girlfriend and he answers as if that’s something he wanted. He’s not “overtly” one way or the other at all. Honestly, the director made it a way bigger deal than it actually is in the movie at all, and I wouldn’t be surprised if activists turn their attention to being annoyed at what he thought was a progressive portrayal.
Overall, I was very moved by the story of Beauty and the Beast 2017, but left a bit wanting in other departments. Is it a good movie? Yep. Is it better than the original? Well, I don’t know. Story yes. Absolutely yes. Wow that was one of the best portrayals of a love story I’ve seen in a movie yes. That was finally the story about true beauty lying within yes.
Everything else… probably not. It’s different I guess you could say. I was thinking halfway through that someone should take the best of both movies and splice them together. That’d be awesome to watch.
Oh, and if someone could add Celine to the ballroom scene in both movies, that’d be great. Can ya pull a George Lucas and make it happen, Disney?
How about you? Have you seen Beauty and the Beast 2017? What were your thoughts and experiences?