Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)
In 2017, Bill Condon released Beauty and the Beast, based off of Disney’s 1991 animated film of the same name. Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Adrian Schiller, Hattie Morahan, and Gerard Horan, the film has grossed $690.3 million as of March 26, 2017.
In Bourbon-era France, a young prince is transformed into a beast by an enchantress as a curse for his arrogance with true love being the only way to lift it. In a nearby village lives Belle, who takes her father’s place when imprisoned by the Beast. Now, the two must learn to love each other before the spell becomes irreversible.
Though visually appealing, Beauty and the Beast is a largely mediocre film in its attempts to bring one of Disney’s most acclaimed animated films back to the big screen for a live-action return. Much of it has to do with the film’s attempts to set itself apart from the animated version. An example is in the beginning of the film when Belle is doing the wash and constructs a washing machine from a barrel tied to a horse and teaches a little girl to read while doing the laundry. There was already an entire musical number dedicated to how different Belle was from the rest of the townsfolk and how they saw her as an oddity and this new scene does nothing but portray the majority of the villagers as openly hostile towards Belle, but such hostility never came up during the prior musical number and seems wildly out of place.
The Beast doesn’t need a Freudian excuse either, with the film opting to give him a cruel father from whom he learned his cruelty. One of the greatest aspects of the animated version was presenting the same characterization in both Gaston and the Beast at the start of the film, both haughty and egotistical in their own ways for no other reason than they can be, with one learning to change over the course of the film and the other staying the same.
Additionally, the inclusion of the enchantress beyond the prologue is wholly unnecessary, going so far as to turning her into an even crueler entity than the prince ever was. She shows up three more times throughout the course of the film: once as a throwaway line where Gaston is pointing her out as the village spinster, again to save Maurice after being left for dead by Gaston and the third time to change everyone back after Belle making her love of the Beast known after the last petal falls. The inclusion serves to further the film’s common theme of learning and realizing when a person is wrong with her walking through the castle following the curse becoming permanent and the servants turning into their inanimate selves, realizing what her curse had become and deciding to lift it as a result. However, all of this is superfluous, seeing as the Enchantress was completely within reason to want to teach the prince a lesson by turning him into the Beast. Her showing up again throughout the film and turning her into a character who learns a lesson along with the other protagonists removes the allure the character had in the original animated film altogether, turning her from an omnipotent being of goodness, love, and light giving the prince a comeuppance for his harshness to just another character unlike everybody else, except with magical powers.
What’s more is the Enchantress is shown to be just as cruel, if not more so than the Beast. Here’s a person who saw the pretentiousness of the prince and decided to teach him a lesson by turning him into a beast, yet she does nothing to Gaston who knowingly tries to murder Maurice and willfully insults her. Furthermore, she gives the Beast a magic book allowing him to go anywhere, though still retaining his beastly form. It would appear the Enchantress in this film wanted to make the Beast suffer rather than teach him a lesson and is quite out of character
The magic book is pointless too. Belle and the Beast use it to travel to Paris where Belle finds out what happened to her mother. The problem here is twofold: it provides unnecessary padding, making the film longer than it needs to be and wastes a perfectly good plot device. The scene in the Parisian apartment stops the film cold so Belle could find out what happened to her mother and then the book is never used again. In the beginning of the film, Belle was complaining about how she wanted “adventure in the great wide somewhere.” This book could have been used to such effect, making the film veer off into a third act which would have allowed the film to be its own thing in such a fantastic way. Nevertheless, once it’s used, the book is put away and never seen again.
Herein lies the problem with basing a brand new adaptation of a classic story on an animated version put out by the same company 25 years ago. The film tries so hard to differentiate itself from the 1991 version that it adds new and unnecessary scenes, producing a bloated and poorly paced product unsure of what it wants to be. This includes the awful way the filmmakers decided to have LeFou try to spell Gaston’s name in the eponymous song, opting to have him spell out exactly what his problem is rather than showing it with him attempting to spell it and quit in frustration.
None of this even goes into the acting and singing found within the film, most of which is good. Nonetheless, it feels as if Watson can’t seem to escape the style of acting she had come to embrace in the Harry Potter films, making it seem as if she’s acting as Hermione is playing the part of Belle in a stage play of Beauty and the Beast. Likewise, her singing is off in many areas, especially when it comes to certain high notes. As a result, a lot of it sounds like badly done Auto-Tune.
Despite the above, the good aspects of the film are really good. The costuming is fantastic as are the set decoration and other visuals. When the film allows the viewer to enjoy themselves and come into the film, it’s easy to get caught in how the castle and the grounds look. A large majority of the acting isn’t too bad either and when combined with all the choreography in the musical numbers, it does make the film enjoyable to watch.