Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review
The French fairytale, “Beauty and the Beast,” has been retold for centuries in various media from picture books, novels, TV Shows, to films, capturing the hearts of different generations. In 1991, Disney created magic with their own retelling of the tale as old as time. They have since sought to revitalize that magic with a live-action remake of their own award-winning animated musical. But did they succeed?
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With an exciting cast, the latest film production of Beauty and the Beast will likely sweep you off your feet and enchant you with familiar songs (introducing a few new ones too) and scenes. There’s enough new here as well for the film to make its own mark, the song “Evermore” sung by the Beast being the main standout.
The Plot of Beauty and the Beast (2017)
The story, for those hiding under a rock, follows a handsome Prince (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) in 18th century France who loved everything beautiful. He was vain and known for having lavish parties in the castle. One day, a hag enters the castle and offers a gift to the Prince: a single red rose. With disdain, he laughs at the ugly woman, unaware of her test.
The hag warns the Prince not to be deceived by appearances. She then transforms into a beautiful Enchantress. Because of his arrogance and cruel vanity, the Enchantress curses the handsome Prince to live as a monstrous and ugly beast. The castle too becomes cursed as the servants transform into live objects. The castle and the people inside become forgotten by all those who might have remembered otherwise.
A single magic rose represents the curse. A woman must fall in love with the Beast and break the curse before the last petal drops.
As the years go by, no one remembers the enchanted castle deep in the forest. Meanwhile, a strange girl named Belle lives in a nearby village. She’s bookish and likes to invent like her inventor father. And being a reader is not too welcome in this traditional village. But Belle is beautiful and that means Gaston, the most handsome brute in the village, will do anything to marry her (including attempted murder at one point in the film) and take Belle for his own.
One day, Belle’s father travels to a nearby town, promising his daughter to bring back a rose (paying homage to the original literary fairytale). However, on his way back home, a mysterious snowstorm takes Maurice off his known path. Lost, he discovers a strange castle and enters to hide away from the storm. When Chip, the adorable little teacup talks to him, Maurice runs off in fear only to discover a beautiful garden of white roses. Remembering his promise to Belle, he plucks just one. In anger, the Beast roars at Maurice and imprisons him for his thievery.
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Belle, in fear for her father’s life, searches for him in the forest and discovers the castle and her father in a dark dungeon. She takes her father’s place, thus beginning the love story between Beauty and the Beast. He’s not as beastly as she first thinks and he falls for her kindness and intelligence. The two build a friendship based on conversation rather than lust (it not hurting that Belle adores his AMAZING library). But can she fall in love with the Beast and save the castle’s inhabitants before it’s too late?
As a whole, Disney put together a remarkable cast. You have Dan Stevens (Mathew fans rejoice!) as the romantic Beast, Emma Watson (Hermione) as Belle, Ian McKellan as the hilarious clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge fans get to hear him sing again!) as the candlestick Lumière, Emma Thompson (because who else??) as Mrs. Potts, Kevin Kline as Maurice, Luke Evans as Gaston, Josh Gad as LeFou, Hattie Morahan (the 2008 Sense & Sensibility) as the Enchantress, and other talented artists like Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle). I mean, that is quite the ensemble!
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For the most part, everyone does an amazing job. And, thankfully, no one does a terrible job. That being said, and I say this with a heavy heart (because I am the HUGEST Harry Potter fan), Emma Watson is a little out of her depth here and is surprisingly miscast. On paper, Hermione as Belle should be perfect. In reality, that is just not the case. Emma Watson sings sweetly (but not strongly) and plays the part of Belle nicely, but that’s about all I can say.
It feels like Hermione running around the castle and village rather than Belle. She added nothing new to the role and indeed doesn’t capture the heart of the character. I don’t believe she’s odd if I’m being frank and I can’t ‘feel’ her empathy and intense humanity as a character. There’s just wasn’t enough depth. And it didn’t do her any favors being paired off with scene stealers like Luke Evans as Gaston.
Still, fans of Emma Watson will enjoy it (she’s not awful) and young girls will likely not notice either. I just wish they cast someone with more singing power and stronger acting chops like say Samantha Barks (known for Éponine in the 2012 film version of Les Miserables). I also wouldn’t have minded if they cast Belle just a tad older. For some inexplicable reason (there’s not that big an age difference), Watson felt young next to Dan Stevens. Perhaps it was because Watson played Belle almost the same as Hermione and Hermione is a young character? Just guessing.
As for the rest of the cast, Luke Evans is the real standout. He and Josh Gad as Gaston and LeFou just have so much fun with the roles that I couldn’t help but laugh in every scene they shared together. Luke Evans and Josh Gad’s over the top garish performances matched the musical numbers with oozing charisma. I left the movie theater wishing I could see these two in person on Broadway. Just amazing.
On a side note, I joke that this was the Sense & Sensibility version of Beauty and the Beast. Not only were there two Elinors (Emma Thomson and Hattie Morahan), but Dan Stevens played Edward opposite Hattie. A nice reunion I suppose for us Janeites! Still, I could feel the chemistry between the actors, and I started pondering a different twist on the story about the Enchantress and Beast. Just me? Maybe so, but I did actually want more with this character. What is her story? She fascinated me and I would have liked some more scenes and background to the intriguing Enchantress that cursed the pompous Prince.
The CGI and Look of the Beast
Dan Stevens was perfectly cast as the Beast and vain Prince. I mean, he’s one of the top actors at pulling off romance. That being said, I just scratch my head with wonder. WHY in the world did the production CHOOSE to give the Beast a weird CGI face?? The Beast looked fake and ridiculous, taking away from Dan Stevens’ great performance. This also created a detachment from his chemistry with Belle. A prosthetic face would have looked SO much better. Why does the Beast from Cocteau’s masterful 1946 production of La Belle et La Bete look a million times more authentic than a 2017 production? It’s absurd on so many levels. And super distracting. This is, by far, the biggest fail of the otherwise entertaining film.
I also have to question why Disney selected Bill Condon to direct. While he has some good movies under his belt, his films that deal with strong CGI such as Twilight: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 & 2 were, well, not that fantastic. Does anyone remember the wolves? Ugh. Sadly, Beauty and the Beast’s effects are similarly bogged down with too much CGI. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Moreover, the CGI of beloved characters like Mrs. Potts didn’t quite work, and the wonderful numbers like “Be Our Guest,” felt too bloated with special effects. They needed to tone it down. While the 2014 French version of Beauty and the Beast has weaknesses of its own, the gorgeous looking film is a better example of visual cinematography, production design, as well as an amazing looking Beast.
The Romance Between Belle and Her Beast
While the chemistry wasn’t exactly the best (hampered partially by the weird CGI Beast face rather than human eyes), I still enjoyed the love story. I’ve been a fan of this transformative and redemptive love story for years, reading myriad folktale variations, retellings, and watching several adaptations. What works about this epic tale between a beauty and a beast is that the love story focuses on the souls falling in love rather than on looks and physical attraction. I’ve also appreciated the metaphorical meaning behind the transformation of the Beast into a Prince. The Beast had to transform his soul inwardly before Belle can love him. It’s a beautiful story (that is not about Stockholm Syndrome) that emphasizes the importance of change and transformation.
Here, the film succeeds rather swimmingly. The Prince begins as a vain human being until he transforms over time in the film to being selfless. He chooses to let Belle go at one point, knowing that doing so, he loses his last chance to end the curse. The film also gives a lovely meaning about loving someone for the inside rather than outward appearance. Nevertheless, I do, however, believe that this particular adaptation would have been all the stronger IF they had made Belle plainer.
But wait, Belle needs to be beautiful, right? The prettiest girl in the village? Well, so change it! Turn this idea on its head. When the film opened with the narration that the vain Prince loved everything beautiful and turned away the hag because of her ugliness, I realized that this version SHOULD have been brave and made the necessary changes to Belle’s character (this is partly why Jane Eyre is so brilliant). Just imagine if Belle were more ordinary and not the most beautiful girl in the village? Just imagine if the Beast REALLY fell in love with Belle for her mind as she became more beautiful over time because he got to know her?
This would then circle back nicely to his obsession with beautiful things. If beauty comes from within why does Belle need to be so physically beautiful especially considering the Prince’s own obsession with beauty? It takes away from the message. This would even make Gaston’s obsession of Belle even funnier. Just think of these lines with Belle’s plainness in mind:
[GASTON] Look at her, LeFou—my future wife.
Belle is the most beautiful girl in the village.
That makes her the best [LEFOU] But she’s so… well-read!
And you’re so… athletically inclined.
Suddenly, the scene feels more original and ironic. But, I won’t ponder too long on opportunities missed…
Overall Thoughts on Beauty and the Beast (2017)
While some aspects of the film left me disappointed (I had high expectations), Beauty and the Beast is a still a lovely and romantic remake that entire families can enjoy together. Further, I enjoyed the new additions (and not just with the music) like the magical book that can take you anywhere (they could have done more with this) and more backstory is given to both Belle and the Beast. Overall, the beautiful musical numbers, extravagant and gorgeous costumes (some with a Marie Antoinette-like design), and cast will have you entertained and nostalgic from start to finish. You don’t want to miss Beauty and the Beast on the big screen.
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Content Note: Beauty and the Beast is rated PG for some action violence, peril, and frightening images.
What did you think of the new adaptation of Beauty and the Beast? Sound off below…
Photos: Walt Disney Motion Pictures
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”