Film Review: Beauty and the Beast

I have mixed feelings about the current trend Disney have for live action remakes of their animated movies. While The Jungle Book worked for me, I was less fussed on Cinderella and Maleficent, and the fact that a live action Dumbo is on the way fills me with dread, although as I am soon to marry a Disney addict I have resigned myself to my fate. Taking on one of the studios best efforts was a big gamble, but thankfully this one pays off.

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The story is simple enough, a vain and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman shelter from the rain but it turns out she is actually a powerful enchantress. She curses him by turning him into a beast, and he will remain a monster until he learns to love and wins the love of another. The enchantress also curses all the residents of the castle turning them into objects related to their jobs, which seems a bit harsh and if the Beast doesn’t succeed in finding a love before the last petal falls from a magic rose they will become inanimate objects for good and he will remain a beast for ever.

Years later we meet Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent and free spirited young woman who lives in the nearest town. The locals aren’t too sure about her, regarding her love of reading and individuality as peculiar, nonetheless her beauty has caught the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the local hero who is a vain, self centred braggart. She spurns his advances and dreams of there being more to life. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is a maker of clockwork machines and leaves to sell them at market, however, on the road back he is waylaid and finds a mysterious, crumbling castle. He attempts to take a rose for his daughter but is imprisoned.

Belle sets off to find him, and arrives at the castle, where concerned for her father’s health she volunteers to take his place. Maurice’s claims are dismissed in town, although Gaston sees an opportunity to exploit the situation.

Meanwhile, at the castle Belle befriends the Beast’s cursed servants and slowly begins to discover there is more to the Beast. Similarly, her presence serves to quell his anger and he begins to care for his hostage. Their relationship, encouraged by the servants strengthens but Belle misses her father and when she becomes aware of his troubles is upset. The Beast allows her to leave.

Will Belle be able to save her father? Will she return to the castle? What will Gaston do when he discovers the existence of the beast? And will the curse ever be broken?

This remake works for same reasons that the updated version of The Jungle Book did, by honouring the original through the use of certain aspects, but by giving characters a different spin and adding new touches. Characters like Maurice, Gaston and his sidekick La Fou (Josh Gad) are given more background and are slightly more complex.

Maurice is the best example, with Kevin Kline moving away from the clownish, mad-inventor of the animated version to create a sadder figure. Belle’s mother is long deceased at the start and his grief is evident throughout, and the backstory adds more emotion to the tale. Also, his character here rings truer with the clever, independent young woman he has raised.

But despite this the main strength is the magical, charming romance at the centre and here credit goes to the leads. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, and does a great job of making her a likeable, strong character. Belle is a great heroine, free thinking and brave, she nobly sacrifices herself for her father and faces the Beast fearlessly. Throughout she shows strength, intelligence and kindness.

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Belle: A great heroine

She handles the singing wonderfully, and is utterly charming throughout. Similarly Dan Stevens’ vocal work as the beautifully realised Beast is expressive enough for it to work, conveying the feelings that develop between them.

The central romance unfolds at a decent pace, and the film benefits from giving the Beast more backstory beyond that he was just a bit of a wanker. It also explains why the rest of the castle don’t hate him, feeling partly responsible for failing in to raise him to be a good man.

One thing the film does well is quickly cover up some of the plot holes from the original, like the fact that the town seem oblivious to the giant castle mere miles away, with the enchantress having cast a spell for them to forget all about it and the people are there. This also means there is a nice touch of when the mob storms the castle some feel deja vu and one of the villagers always has a sense of having lost something, it being revealed it is the loved ones he had at the castle…

These changes are well done and mostly serve to make the film play better as a live action piece as a straight adaptation might have suffered in translation. But there are plenty of moments that are retained, notably in costume and music. The ballroom scene in the original is an iconic scene and was groundbreaking for the time, and it helps that the castle is just as beautiful here and that the dance scene is one of the most moving moments in the film. The song remains an absolute wonder, and the scene is magical, prompting one small child in the cinema to actually cheer and applaud at the end.

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Other scenes are translated to varying degrees of success, the swagger of “Gaston” is a standout here, especially as fresh jokes are added and Josh Gad is brilliant as Le Fou. Luke Evans as well impresses, capturing the strutting, arrogant character wonderfully even though he isn’t roughly the size of a barge. While Evans is reliable as ever, I left the film suspecting that Dwayne Johnson would have been brilliant for the part, especially if he channeled the charismatic arrogance of his wrestling days.

However, for me “Be Our Guest” didn’t match the original, and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere wasn’t half as charming as Jerry Orbach’s and the character design for him and Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth were made a bit too “realistic” and a lot less endearing or friendly looking than their animated counterparts.

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The old ones were a lot friendlier looking, I’m just saying

Similarly Mrs Potts isn’t quite as cute as her old self, but is voiced by the ever excellent Emma Thompson, who takes over from Angela Lansbury and does a stellar job.

But these are minor quibbles and the movie does well in bringing new things to the table. There is a new musical number, performed by the Beast that is genuinely moving and as I mentioned earlier the characters and some story aspects are changed. The fact that the servants are becoming increasingly inanimate is a heartbreaking touch, with them all moving towards losing their humanity. In fact a sequence where they are transformed is an emotional gut punch that had my eyes a little watery.

Before it’s release a lot was made of the fact that Le Fou was being turned into a gay character. The fact is that Josh Gad’s character is far more complicated than the original and his sexuality is only a part of that. Le Fou is loyal and clearly in love with Gaston, but it is suggested that the two have been together a long time, having served together in an unspecified war. Le Fou’s admiration for his friend is clear, but what is a nice addition is the fact that he is not just a dimwit who goes along with everything. His conscience starts to peak through, and there are moments when he acts as a calming, soothing presence for Gaston, staying his hand.

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Le Fou tries to calm Gaston

As Gaston’s obsession with Belle grows and he reveals his true, selfish nature Le Fou realises he has made a mistake and tries to make it right. It’s nice that a secondary character, largely a buffoon is given a bit more depth and Gad is consistently amusing.

All in all this is a very successful film which tells a familiar story in an utterly charming way, beautiful to look at and entirely engaging. I was sucked in early on and utterly captivated, in much the way that six year old Chris was back in 1992. In fact, I’d say this packs more of an emotional punch than the original.

It’s a delight from start to finish, with the familiar and the new combining to make a film which is great in it’s own right. MWF loved it as well, so hardcore Disney fans can rest assured that it doesn’t let the house of mouse down.

Verdict: A wonderful, magical experience which uses the animated version as a jumping off point to go in new directions and add greater depth. Moving, amusing and utterly, marvelously charming. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Once upon a time…

I went to the cinema the otherday and saw posters for two movies that riff on the Snow White story (Mirror Mirror and Snow White And The Huntsman).

Apparently both movies tell the story in a new, exciting way and no doubt the stars of both will give interviews about how their flick is a reimagining or reinvention of the story.

Enough please. This reinvention thing is as overdone and cliched as the original fairytales.

Shrek (four movies, 5 if you count Puss In Boots), Hoodwinked, Enchanted, Ella Enchanted, Ever After, Red Riding Hood, Chicken Little.

I’m not against the whole idea of giving things a new spin and I enjoyed a few of those movies I’ve just listed.

And I’m quite looking forward to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which might be daft fun and works as a sequel to the fairytale, as well as including a great crush-man crush combination of Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner.

Arterton and Renner as Hansel and Gretel, might be fun.

And, there’s the brilliant comic series Fables which sees nursery rhyme and fairytale characters exiled in the modern world. Check it out, its very good.

But for the most part the reworkings don’t click with me, I think its because they largely fall a bit flat, and in their attempts to go against the grain actually rob the stories of their appeal. Fairytales are wish fulfilment things with lots of derring do and heroics. I get that the passive females are a bit old fashioned, but this ridiculous trend of turning every prince into a bungling fool and having the girl be resourceful is just as insulting.

Does the improvement of female characterisation have to come on the weakening of the male ones?

And there’s no need for it. Look at two of Disney’s classic movies- Aladdin and Beauty And The Beast– they follow the stories fairly closely, and the female characters aren’t exactly weak. Jasmine shows a bit more integrity than Aladdin and Belle is just delightful as she draws out the Beast’s humanity, she has a mix of great human qualities- kindness, compassion as well as integrity and strength of will.

Belle- a great character

Why not hark back to those? They’re great films and far better than any of the reworkings I listed above.

It doesn’t help that both of the two Snow White flicks look kinda crap. Mirror Mirror looks awful, with Julia Roberts overplaying it for laughs and some dire attempts at jokes.

There’s a bit more to recommend Snow White And The Huntsman, mainly the presence of Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth as the axe-swinging huntsman and Charlize Theron appearing to be a good evil queen.

But the weakness for me is Kirsten Stewart who when donning armour and carrying a sword just looks ridiculous. She looks like she couldn’t take on a mannequin.

Its not because she’s a girl, but because she looks like a little girl, maybe I’m carrying residual annoyance at her moping in Twilight, but Stewart doesn’t seem to show any grit or edge that would make her a convincing warrior princess.

Also, the main problem with Snow White is the whole “Fairest in the land…” thing. Now, with a cartoon that features two female characters (3 if you count the hag the witch turns into) then its easy to draw an attractive, perfect woman, although I must admit that like Woody Allen in Annie Hall I prefer the evil Queen in the Disney version.

But in a real life film its a tough burden to bear for an actress, they have to be flat out gorgeous, and I’m not getting that in either of these trailers. Don’t get me wrong, Stewart and Lily Collins are far from being ugly, but are they earth shatteringly, time-stoppingly beautiful?

Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this is my blog so I am the beholder, and from what I’m beholding neither of them has that stunning quality. Even worse, Stewart has to go up against Theron in the fairest stakes, and from my seat, its not a close competition with Theron coming out on top.

Theron- Fairest?

I get that tweaking stories can give them a fresh spin, but the reason that these stories have endured for so long is because of what they were when they started out, and lets put it this way, will people be telling their kids the Snow White story we all know, or the one where Snow White puts on some armour?

Any thoughts? You know what to do. TTFN