Beauty and the Beast 2017 Review

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Warning: spoilers.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is not as good as the original. As a movie on its own right, it got a mixed reception. People seem to either absolutely love or absolutely hate this movie. I was fully prepared to hate it myself…but I actually kind of liked it. I thought it was quite well made.

Now, I think the thing that really divides people on this movie is the portrayal of the classic characters. Personally, I really enjoyed most of them…but had one major exception.

Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as Lefou were great. Gaston is a truly chilling antagonist, and Lefou is funny and also a lot more layered. I like how in this version Lefou obviously loves Gaston, but eventually realizes that he needs to leave him. I think he needed a better conclusion (saying sorry to Belle and actually getting to kiss a man rather than just dance with one for two seconds), but overall, I think Lefou’s character was an improvement. I found myself dancing in my seat during the “Gaston” song, and engrossed at the Mob Song.

The household objects were also surprisingly good. Some of the character designs don’t work (the wardrobe and piano just look creepy), but they did manage to come to life better than I thought they would. I really did feel for them and actually got teary-eyed over them at some points. I just wish they didn’t look so realistic.

And I got to say, the hate for Emma Watson is so overblown. Yes, I hate what she did to the iconic yellow dress and some of her attitudes toward making this film, but the whole claim on how she’s cold and emotionless in the movie is uncalled for. She does emote. She does care. And I actually did like some of the changes she made to this character. I like how she’s a bit more proactive and practical, but still maintains her love of books and her family. Honestly, I kind of saw myself in Belle a lot. I feel like, if I was in her situation, I would behave exactly like she would.

So no, Emma Watson as Belle is not the problem with the movie. No, the major problem is actually THE BEAST.

Now, Dan Stevens did a good job (with what he’s given) and I’m not expecting his new design to perfectly mimic the original. But even with the new design, it does not look right. There are a lot of scenes where he looks fake as hell. The CGI gets very conspicuous, especially when he moves. He’s not very expressive, and whenever he does get to emote, he looks very creepy. Like something’s wrong. I can safely say while I may have been harsh on the household objects before, the design of the Beast is extremely uncanny valley for me. Honestly, I would have just given him makeup and prosthetics.

But what’s even worse is that a lot of the humanity the original Beast had is gone here. In the original movie, when he acts like an asshole, we see him visibly feel sorry. We get to sympathize with him in his darkest moments; when he imprisons Belle, we see that he feels bad and lets her stay in a nicer room. When Belle rejects him at first, we get to see him upset. When he chases Belle out of his room, he looks very ashamed before going to save her. He looks overjoyed when he gets closer to Belle, and when he has to let Belle go, he’s heartbroken, but brave, choking back his tears and stroking Belle’s hair as he gives her her freedom.

In the remake, though? Nope, that’s all gone! And when he and Belle have romantic moments it feels rushed, not letting them have enough time to develop real chemistry and attraction to each other. In the original, I know that Belle fell for him because he was revealed to have a soul. In this film? He’s cold and distant, really reserved. So he did not work. But the rest of the movie did, for the most part.

I’m not sure if the other remakes are going to work (there’s a whopping 19 planned so far, who knows how many will actually see the light of day), but I’m glad that this didn’t disappoint me too badly or ruin the original for me.

The Many Versions of Beauty and the Beast

With all the hubbub over Disney’s live action movie, I thought now would be a good time to look back at some of the other adaptations of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.

There are, of course, numerous versions. Some are genuine attempts at art, others just cheap knockoffs of the Disney version. Perhaps a knockoff most people are familiar with is the version by Good Times Entertainment, released a year after Disney’s.

This is…not the best version of the story. Mainly because the more problematic and creepy parts of the story are emphasized. In this version, Beauty comes to the castle under the expectation that she will die. When the Beast spares her (and she thanks him by getting down on her knees and behaving submissively, not a good image), she immediately takes a liking to him. She ignores any warning that he might be dangerous, dreamily talking about how ‘kind’ he is, and dances with him once before he begs her not to leave because he’ll ‘die of loneliness’. Still, better than the Golden Films version, where the Beast is really and truly abusive to Beauty (he yells at her frequently and actually causes her to fall down a flight of stairs in one of his fits).

The worst version is the Bevanfield one; a grotesque, hideously ugly, dreary and cheap as hell adaptation where Beauty’s COUSIN (voiced somehow by Christopher Lee) seeks her hand in marriage. Because that’s totally appropriate for kids!

Thankfully, genuinely good versions of the story do exist. They may not have the extravagance of the Disney version, but they still work.

There is a version by HBO’s Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child which takes place in Africa, but unfortunately I’m not sure if a good quality copy of it exists online. On YouTube it’s only available through poor quality VHS rips in small sections. Thankfully, good quality copies of other versions can be found.

This is from the anime series Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It starts off problematic, but gradually gets better as you see the couple actually bond. It’s silly, but it’s nice to see the titular characters get cute together.

This incarnation, by Britannica’s Tales Around the World, is rich in atmosphere. It is visually unique from other versions of the story, creating a moody and original setting and tone. I like some of the added details to the story (such as the Beast slowly losing his humanity) and it’s just overall a haunting and beautiful rendition.

Another visually stunning version by Stories to Remember. Mia Farrow’s narration makes the story warm and comforting. You really feel for the Beast here. It’s like a painting come to life.

But I got to say, I think my fave is probably the version from the Simsala Grimm series.

Why? Because the relationship between Beauty and the Beast is just so POSITIVE. There is no abuse between them whatsoever. The Beast threatens to hold her father prisoner (and you understand why later), but doesn’t demand his daughters in exchange. He lets him go home to say goodbye, and Beauty voluntarily goes. Soon the two of them are happy together, enjoying the castle’s wonders and smiling and laughing. When she rejects his marriage proposal (and calls him out for keeping her hostage) the Beast lets her go. No deadline, no guilt trip (even though he will die). But she comes back, and actually kisses him in the lips! And it’s happily ever after. I just found this version so cute and refreshing.

There are many, many others, so check them out! It’s a tale as old as time, and chances are you’ll find more than one told well.

 

The New Beauty and the Beast Plugs Right Into the Uncanny Valley

Disney finally released their first official trailer for their remake of the beloved animated classic, and oh god, it’s worse than I thought.

This is quite possibly some of the worst CGI I have ever seen outside of a bad animated film. The designs and movements of the household objects are absolutely horrifying. In hand-drawn cartoon form, they looked adorable, but here they just look WRONG.

The Beast’s face isn’t too bad, though it could have been more, well, beastly. However, there are some shots of him moving and they look off.

And that’s the whole problem. Everything looks OFF. And it’s creepy.

What makes this bad is that we just had The Jungle Book remake, which had breathtaking CGI. The animals almost looked REAL. And the setting was very believable. But here, none of the nonhuman characters look or move right.

What the hell happened? Was the budget slashed? Did Disney want to rush this out? Either way, the entire look of the movie is terrible. Again, the colour palette for this movie is weak. With the exception of a few scenes, everything is dulled and muted down. And the costumes for Belle are underwhelming (what have they done to her iconic golden gown???).

The only thing that this movie has going for it is the SOUND. The Beast’s voice is great–he sounds coarse and rough but still emotional and haunting. And the music sounds like it’s going to stay true to the original. And I guess from what I can discern, the story looks pretty loyal to the original as well.

But then, this raises the question…what’s the point?? Why take a classic film and remake it if you’re not going to do anything new with it and have horrible effects? This was my problem with the Cinderella remake…there was literally nothing new added (if anything it made Cinderella herself a weaker character) that it ended up becoming dull.

This is really disappointing. I could be wrong; maybe this movie will turn out to be amazing. But as it stand, I don’t like how the movie LOOKS, and I’m going to stick with the animated version. At least that movie is beautiful in every way. This movie is trying too hard to be beautiful but ends up looking ugly.

Beauty and the Beast Teaser Thoughts

Disney live action remakes tend to be either really great or really, well, not great, so I’m a little nervous how they’re going to handle the remake for one of my all time fave movies. With the teaser trailer we get a sneak peek of what’s to come, but we probably won’t get more info until either later this year or next year.

What do I think of what we’ve got so far?

Well, I love he music. I love how it’s almost the same from the original. It gives me the impression that this movie is going to be (mostly) loyal to it. The music also adds a nice atmosphere to the trailer.

I’m not sure how I feel about the casting. I like Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, but I’m not sure how I like Ewan McGregor as Lumiere. I feel like they should have cast Patrick Stewart, since he and McKellan do have a history of acting brilliantly alongside each other and could pull off Lumiere and Cogsworth’s relationship. Ewan seems too young to be Lumiere, and his French accent is terrible, sorry. As for Emma Watson, I’m sure she can convey Belle’s personality, but I don’t think she really LOOKS the part of Belle? I’ll have to see before I pass a major judgement on that though.

I know I might get flack for this, but I REALLY don’t like the colour scheme. With the exception of the rose, everything is this bland blue and orange palette used in every trailer nowadays and I’m worried that’s the final look they’re going for. The original movie had deep, lush purples and golds and reds and blues and was overall a visual feast but this movie doesn’t have that. And the set pieces we’re shown so far aren’t given a lot of character either.

I guess basically my ears are liking it (except for Lumiere’s new voice), but my eyes are not. I just hope the CGI used on the Beast and other characters (because let’s face it there’s probably not going to be a lot of makeup and prosthetics) will fit in seamlessly (like in The Jungle Book) and not stand out.

I think it goes without saying that I REALLY hope that it’s going to be completely faithful to the first movie. Please be more like The Jungle Book and less like Alice in Wonderland.

Overall, am I excited? Not yet. But hopefully that will change soon enough.

A Tribute to Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

I have quite a few fave Disney directors (mainly Rich Moore, John Musker and Ron Clements, Don Hall and Chris Williams), but I think Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise are my ultimate faves. Why? Because I absolutely adore all three of the films they directed at Disney, and they all resonate with me very strongly. Those films are Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

All films are absolutely gorgeous spectacles to behold. Each one of them has a compelling, awe-inspiring climax, a compelling and complex male lead, a beautiful and strong female lead, and a realistic but threatening villain. Here are brief words of love to their three films.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

A masterpiece. The main reason why I love this film so much (besides the striking visuals and the wonderful music and songs) is because of Belle, the Beast, and their relationship. I resemble Belle in so many ways: we look alike, we both love reading and stories, we don’t entirely fit in socially but love our families, we refuse to handle any crap, and we have an affinity for monsters. Belle is great because she’s kind and inquisitive but is not afraid to stand up for herself, but is also willing to admit she’s wrong. I love how she is also beautiful without being either overly sexualized or overly infantilized. The Beast is, in my opinion, the first official Disney Prince that people started caring about; he was well-defined, sympathetic, layered, went through a lot of character growth throughout the movie, and his love for Belle is so pure. So of course, seeing these two misfits get together and find true love in one another despite all odds was really rewarding.

The film is not just a simple fairy tale; it’s a story about social exclusion and self image and how to overcome it. Gaston is a truly terrifying villain because he’s so real: he starts out as a standard misogynist with ego issues but develops into a cold-blooded killer when he doesn’t get what he wants. A true and well-deserved classic and one of my ultimate faves.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Another masterpiece that is slowly getting the recognition it deserves. The film is truly revolutionary by how it’s so different and radical for Disney and a lot of other animated family films. It’s not afraid to touch serious, dark, complicated issues with bigotry, racism, abuse, isolation, religion, and corruption of power in a powerful, intense, but ultimately uplifting way. Quasimodo is one of my fave leads because he’s disabled and has gone through a lot of hardships but ultimately won’t let it define him, is well-developed and likable, and finds true friendship and is recognized for the hero he is. Esmeralda is beautiful and cares about social justice, and Frollo is one of Disney’s most terrifying, evil, and realistic villains. While the gargoyles probably needed less screen time and they should have brought in actual Romani people to be involved with the film, for what it is, it’s a really important movie about standing up against injustice and prejudice. It’s dramatic, it’s gorgeous, it has some of the greatest soundtracks in Disney history, and is simply wonderful.

ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE

An underrated gem. The animation is stunning, the characters are a lot of fun (with a truly badass and beautiful female lead with Kida and a nerdy but likable male lead in the form of Milo), and it is an action film that pulls no punches. It also has set up a truly unique and creative culture and world of Atlantis. The villain isn’t just a mustache-twirling sociopath; he’s just greedy and morally bankrupt. It’s an adventure story of a young man finding his place in the world and a woman who saves her people and becomes a queen. They both share a mutual love of the culture and for each other, but without the relationship being shoved down the audience’s throat. It’s a fun, creative film, and it deserves more credit.

Gary Trousdale is now working for DreamWorks, and Kirk Wise has been keeping a lower profile but apparently he has a new film in the works. I hope one day these two can make another movie together. I’m sure it will be great and I’d love to see it (and hopefully, lots of people will too).

The True Beauty of Beauty and the Beast

Or, In Defense of A Widely Misunderstood Movie

I freaking love Beauty and the Beast. In addition to the wonderful music, beautiful animation, and good story, what I really love about the movie is the relationship of the titular characters.It’s a heartwarming tale of two misfits who find each other, discover they have a lot of common, and eventually overcome their difference and find true love in one another.

So why is it that it’s often disparaged as a story of ‘abuse’ and/or ‘Stockholm Syndrome’?

I can definitely see how the first act or so would come across this way. At this point, Belle is sad and alone, the Beast is aggressive, and neither of them are happy together. And if you stop watching at that point and live with the knowledge that they get together, yeah, it sounds like a bad relationship. But after the Beast saves Belle from the wolves, their relationship takes a turn for the better.

When the Belle tends to the Beast’s wounds, she does not flinch or cower or look remotely scared or sad when the Beast yells at her. She stands up for herself and calls him out. She also thanks the Beast for saving her life.

See this screenshot? This is the Beast realizing “hey, this is someone who actually doesn’t hate me or think I’m nothing but a hideous beast. this is the first time someone has given me a genuine thank you. Maybe I should change” and then he replies with “You’re welcome”.

Soon after that, he decides he wants to do something for her because he’s “never felt this way about anyone”. NOT because “how do I get this woman to fall in love with me and never leave me?” Because he is smitten by how kind and caring Belle is, and he’s going to become the same for her. And then he encourages her love of books by giving her a library.

Now look at this screenshot:

Look at that face. Look at how genuinely HAPPY he is. This is the first time he’s been so happy in such a long time. Again, not because ‘I’m going to have this girl be mine forever’, but ‘I’m going to do something that will make someone ELSE happy’. And sure enough, Belle is overjoyed.

That’s when the gap between them closes and realizes that they both have a shared love of storytelling, dancing, the arts, and nature. They play with each other, read together, and have dinner and dance together. All the while, the Beast never once raises his voice or antagonizes her. They become kindred spirits with one another, culminating in love. It’s important to note that, during the famous dance scene, Mrs. Potts sings: “Bittersweet and Strange / Finding You Can Change / Learning You Were Wrong” (emphasis mine). The Beast realizes he can change; he doesn’t have to be the monster he looks like. Belle also learns that she can be wrong about others and can look past people’s appearance and initial behaviour to find something good underneath.

But what really dispels the whole Stockholm Syndrome/Abusive relationship theory is that, when Belle finds out that her father is sick, instead of saying “no, stay here” or “go get him, bring him back here”, HE LETS HER GO. And doesn’t even try to guilt trip her into coming back or make Belle think she’s abandoning him. He sets her free, and she LEAVES. That doesn’t sound like an abuser or a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. Belle only comes  back when the Beast is in danger and that’s when she realizes she loves him back. And then they can be together.

It’s actually baffling to ignore all the character and relationship development (and genuine displays of affection; I get intense feels whenever the Beast strokes Belle’s face and hair, and she isn’t remotely creeped out by it) and label it as something it is not. I understand not liking the BEGINNING of the relationship, but people act like that’s the ONLY extent of their relationship. It’s kind of gross.

But you know the REAL reason why you shouldn’t dismiss the Belle/Beast relationship (and the movie in general) as a textbook example of Stockholm Syndrome?

Because it’s disrespectful to Howard Ashman.

Howard Ashman was heavily involved with this movie. When he and Alan Menken were brought in to reinvigorate the film (which was going through production problems), Ashman’s health was failing. He was a gay man dying of AIDS (and in the 9os, homosexuality and gay rights were still a bit of a taboo, and the AIDS epidemic was rampant and not properly dealt with) and had been unlucky in love, and he worked on the songs and had some input on the story, heavily basing it on his own life. It’s easy to see what Beauty and the Beast is actually about.

You have the Prince, who is not a nice person, but was only an 11 year old boy (apparently Ashman did intend for the Prince to be child when he was cursed; the reason why the paintings depict him as a lot older is because the animators and other story artists didn’t like the idea), and is punished for behaving badly by being cursed with a ‘disease’ that would wear away at his body and mind. He has to live like this for years on end, and can’t go out without being rejected. The only company he has are his servants, who are no longer human and who can’t interact with him beyond obeying his orders and giving him advice. He languishes for years, hating himself, until he meets someone who is also an outcast (note how, in the song Belle, there are the lyrics “it’s a pity and a sin / she doesn’t quite fit in”)  but doesn’t find him repulsive. They bond together, but she has to leave. Then the Beast accepts he is going to succumb to his ailment forever, doesn’t fight back when an angry mob goes after him simply for who he is and what he looks like, and accepts his death, knowing at least that he saw his beloved one last time. But because their love for one another was so powerful, the Beast is free from his spell and they live happily ever after.

There are a lot of analyses of Howard Ashman’s influence on the film that you can read for yourself (I’ll link you to some at the bottom), but it’s pretty obvious that the Beast’s life is an indirect parallel to Ashman’s. The Beast can be seen as a metaphor for someone living with AIDS and is a social recluse because of it, but, unlike Ashman, is cured of his AIDS, finds true love, and is happy, successful, and loved. The entire point of the Beast’s character is not that he’s an angry and bitter creature; he’s someone who’s sick and alone and only gets better when someone puts aside their prejudice and helps him. Even if you don’t think the film is exactly a metaphor for homosexuality since Belle isn’t persecuted and it ends with a (presumably cis) man and woman together, it’s pretty clear that the social outcast and illness parts of Howard’s life are reflected in this movie.

As you can see, reducing Beauty and the Beast to simply a narrative about abusive is really disrespectful, not to mention baseless. You don’t have to like this movie or the relationship, but keep Howard Ashman’s impact on the film in mind before you analyse it or try to rip it apart.

Links for reference:

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/beauty-and-the-plague

http://sexualfables.com/beauty_and_the_beast.php

https://gevajournal.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/ever-a-surprise-remembering-howard-ashman-part-1/

I also highly recommend watching the “Beyond Beauty” Untold Stories documentary on the Blu-Ray.