‘Movies With Mitch’ – ‘Beauty & The Beast’ Review

When it comes to Disney‘s current trend of transforming their animated classic into ‘Live Action’ movies. There seems to be a lack of uniformity as-to what content constitutes (or indeed deserves) to make the transition from page to screen. With Disney’s first foray in 1996’s 101 Dalmatians through to last years Jungle Book (2016), no two films could settle upon how faithful a retelling these new batch of films should be or even whether or not those classic songs we know and love should make it in the transfer over.

What obstensivally is a matter taste – as I’m sure not everyone is in love with musicals – it is a strong debate to bring up as it appears that the success of Bill Condon’s Beauty & The Beast (2017) should be the mould to follow-by going forward.

From the moment Emma Watson’s Belle emerges from her modest cottage to sing the opening number it is instantly apparent that Director Bill Condon and Composer Alan Menken know what they are working with here. So tightly was Menken’s musical score sown into the fabric of the animated classic’s DNA that it would be a no-brainer for those to make the leap. What was unexpected however is just how theatrical the actors performances came across on screen.

As the leading lady you would expect Watson’s voice to be stronger than it actually is but rather than detract, her breathy performance lends itself to the Broadway-esque musical numbers that she tackles grounding the film whilst still conforming to the larger-than-life story. Its clear that Condon is trying to give the perception that his cast is singing live with the presentation of a far rougher edit of the tracks than what would traditionally be presented for a musical film and this works to varying degree. While weaker singers such as Watson, Kevin Kline and Emma Thompson put forward an admirable performance, they are left exposed in contrast to far stronger singers.

Given the source material the musical score is expectantly fantastic. Where the film struggles is the moments in where the writers feel the need to insert dialogue to explain minor plot holes from the animated film. One particular moment that never bothered me during my viewing of the film when I was a kid was how Belle got the Beast onto her horse after he is attacked by a pack of vicious wolves. I hadn’t even considered the implication that this tiny woman could deadlift this huge man-beast but apparently I’m alone in my ignorance because writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos felt the need to insert a clunky bit of dialogue to explain this away.

Although on whole I appreciate the new material we got here. With the heart wrenching backstory of Belle’s mother, that not only added nuance to Belle’s discovery of where she came from but also flesh-out her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) too, being of particular note. Subtle changes that helped the film to distinguish itself from its predecessor often come at the expense of the original films more spectacularly moments.

In an effort to avoid spoilers, as fans of the film will know when they see it. But the ending scene is altered both aesthetically and contextually so-much-so that it undercuts the themes of the film simply through the actions of a minor character in the original film. While for some this may be a superfluous complaint, it is shame considering how identifiable that scene is with fans.

When it comes to dealing with these iconic characters the film at times get it right. Although Emma Watson is simply not ‘my’ Belle she is suitably endearing, intelligent and vicarious enough that your want to go on this journey with her. Dan Stephen’s Beast is complicated to unravel given his performance is hidden under so much CGI. Yet the physicality that he brings to his mo-cap work perhaps brings a deeper softness to the character than the original ever could. Essentially while we see Stephen’s as the Beast we also ‘see’ the man underneath and more poignantly the man he wants to be be through his interactions with Belle.

The film wouldn’t be complete of course without the trio of Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), whose curse this time around is inspired by the Broadway play that slowly sees the enchanted items in the Castle slowly turning more into inanimate objects rather than just being cursed to stay that way forever. Though what may appear to be a superficial change this does actually add an extra layer of interest into otherwise background characters. Making you care about their eventually fate, especially within the closing moments of the siege at the Castle, that I’m not ashamed to admit brought a lump to my throat.

Although the title characters were brilliantly realised a particular stand out has to be Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and LeFou.

For an actor whose previous works include big budget movies such as Fast & The Furious 6 (2013), Dracula Untold (2014) and the Hobbit Trilogy (2012). We had yet to witness Evans rise to level of which the previous films demanded with his performances often coming across as phoned-in or understated. An accusation that seems far removed from his scene stealing performance as the deeply vain and misogynistic Disney Villain who had me rolling in the aisle with every purposeful glance and movement that just added to the lore which is Gaston rather than detracting from what has come before.

LeFou on the other hand is a complicated story.

It saddens me that in 2017 I have to reference the mass amount of homophobic and ignorant statements that have been levelled at Disney for including a gay character within a film aimed at children. People are going have their views, free speech and all that. What saddens me even more however is how unnecessary it was to have LeFou coded as gay in the first place given how Disney clearly have a stereotypical view of the gay community.

To say that LeFou is so far in the closet that his homosexuality is hidden is an understatement; blink or close your ears at two points in the film and your’ll miss the subtle gay undertone that desperately clings to Josh Gads performance. Resulting in an underdevelopment sub-plot with a LeFou’s eventual love interest, who himself is a one-dimensional gay stereotype, resulting in the alienation of the very community you are trying to support.

As a gay Director, perhaps Bill Condon could have used his next project to show a fully realised depiction of a gay man on screen rather than half-heartily trying here. Although more positive LGBTQ role models in film (and mass media in general) are desperately needed, not all depictions further the cause but have the opposite effect by reinforcing antiquated notions of a gay men.

If you are fan of the 1991 film then the live action Beauty & The Beast will certainly meet your expectations. With stunning visuals, costumes and set pieces that brings the magical fairy tale to life, the performances by the principle cast helps to rejuvenate the 26 year old film with finely tuned acting that will have you falling in love with this tale as old as time all over again.

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