Review: "Beauty and the Beast" (2017)
Title: Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tale
Director: Bill Condon
Stars (primary actors): Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad
Bias: My relationship with Disney is complicated. Like my relationship with Emma Watson. Don’t even get me started on the problems with a feminist campaign’s figurehead getting cozy with Disney and accepting a role in a decidedly faux-feminist fairy tale revision.
In a Nutshell: I feel like we should all know this given that it’s a “tale as old as time,” but, just in case: Girl requests rose, father steals rose from beast, beast imprisons father, girl takes father’s place, girl and beast slowly fall in love—wooing and overcoming challenges are plentiful in this process.
The Critique: This live-action reboot didn’t work for me. I suspected that Disney would not deviate much, if any, from their original adaptation, as Beauty and the Beast (1991) is one of their sacrosanct texts, thus they relied heavily on nostalgia to carry the live-action to success. I found that some of the minor alterations worked against the film. For example, the random comments on the enchantments—Maurice, Kevin Kline, remarking on the snow in June/July and on the enchanted objects in the castle, before running screaming from them—really irked me. The idea behind enchantment and magic is that we are supposed to accept it for what it is; when we engage in a fairy tale we are willingly suspending our disbelief, and we accept that anything is possible for however long the tale lasts. Commenting on the magic breaks the spell. It makes clear that the real world and the magic world do not coexist, but rather that the two worlds exist separately in demarcated spaces. It might seem small, but for me it was a glaring and annoying oversight—as well as a misuse of comedic effects.
Another alteration that I felt negatively affected the film was the expansion of the Beast’s backstory. During the film, I experienced an, “OMG, the Beast and Gaston are basically the same person,” moment, which I haven’t experienced previously—except for Cocteau’s version, in which the beast is literally played by the same actor who plays the Gaston-like character, but that’s a different story. Even so, I’m fairly certain this was not meant to be one of the film’s take-aways. Regardless, the Beast’s backstory works to amplify the villainy of his character; his penchant for “beautiful things,” and his single-mindedness in obtaining them is not unlike Gaston’s. In fact, he’s basically a royal version of Gaston. This slight expansion makes the Beast’s story seem less like a momentary lapse in judgement (which is how Disney’s animated version reads) and more like a deeply disturbing character flaw, and I was left wondering why one character is so clearly worthy of redemption while the other is not—and why we accept that as an audience. Especially since the Beast is not without motivation for redemption. Of course, the similarities between Gaston and the Beast are further magnified by the lack of sparks between Watson and Stevens and the underlying competition between Evans and Stevens for her hand. This heightened parallel between the characters—Gaston and the Beast—conjures some interesting questions about redemption and transformative powers.
Perhaps my biggest issue was the signing. Seriously, can we please stop pretending that actors can sing? It’s killing my soul. Music is a significant part of what makes Disney’s animation so successful (at least since the late 80s/early 90s). Thanks to Howard Ashman—you can read about him and more about Beauty and the Beast in my forthcoming blog article—Disney’s animations have been quasi-musicals and have featured high-caliber singers—often from or with Broadway experience. So, if you’re looking to reboot one of your texts and go live-action with it, and you don’t plan on deviating from the source text, then one of your top priorities should be singing. I’m sorry, but Emma Watson is no Paige O’Hara and Emma Thompson—whom I love—is no Angela Lansbury. I just can’t with the singing actors anymore.
Essentially, the utter failure on Disney’s part to bring something new to the table while simultaneously falling unreservedly short in the music portion of the program turns the film into a nostalgia-driven cash-grab.
Shout-out(s): Seriously, hats off to Dan Stevens for expertly wielding that 40-lb muscle suit, especially while twirling Watson around on stilts.
To Go, to Rent, or to Netflix: Wait until it’s free. In fact, if yours isn’t a case of nostalgia, never would be a good time to see it.
Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios