Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

By Grace Dietz

The animated Beauty and the Beast rocked the world when it came out – nominated for Best Picture in an era without a Best Animated Feature and with only five slots, beginning the Disney on Broadway trend, and basically becoming one of the crown jewels of both the Disney Renaissance and Disney forever more.

With a class act like that, how do you remake it live-action?

Starting with acclaimed casting choices that make people wonder if someone else who was wise cast them in their imagination, a teaser that should be given as the perfect way of how to do teasers, a trailer that should again be given as the perfect way to do trailers, a few other spots along the way, and then releasing it – all the while keeping it as close as possible to the original, while making the rare addition, and never subtracting.

The thing that first struck my attention was how in the ‘Belle’ major opening number seemed very much taken from the ‘Live On Stage’ attraction at WDW or from a filmed version of the Broadway musical – the crowd, the synchronization, the directions all seemed incredibly musically theatrical. This vibe later became less apparent, and mostly vanished only to reemerge at certain parts (songs) – and the movie’s ability to go as movies do, with the magic of cinema technology and camera ability, manages to mix the best of both worlds.

In the prologue especially, and throughout the movie, the costuming is visually stunning – and it’s all extremely (except for Belle’s ball gown for the most part) Rococo 18th Century – the animated movie’s time period (and the original, most well-known version of the fairy tale’s emergence time). This leads to an interesting moment during the ‘Be Our Guest’ sequence, when the line “After all, miss, this is France!” comes shortly before a knife slices into a carving board (the animated movie uses the Eiffel Tower, which was then unbuilt).

The script is very much taken from the animated movie (addressed shortly), and it is the actors in their roles as the characters that really help allow this to happen, even as more ‘elaboration’ is provided – for the better all around.  

Emma Watson was everybody’s idea for Belle before this movie was even announced, and she fits into the character like a glove; all Belle’s intelligence, compassion, and spirit come to life. Her singing is perhaps not always as strong as the original’s voice (Paige O’Hara), but she carries through admirably. Her relationship with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline; doing great) is appropriately touching, with new details combining to make it further heart-rendering; her chemistry with the Beast (which will be touched on further) is excellent.

Dan Stevens spends the vast majority of this movie CGIed with excellently rendered fur, and his expressions captured through face/motion capture then Beastified – and they work in tandem, and he works individually, wonderfully and beautifully to portray the character as he journeys from ‘mean course unrefined temper-tantrum-throwing man-child-beast’ to ‘sweet and almost kind and dear and so unsure’ to ‘kind and gentle and noble in touch with his humanity’. He sings at a few points (including a new solo), and does very well for someone doing ‘Beast Voice’. And his appearance as the Prince proves that no, those eyes are not, in fact, Photoshopped or CGIed. (Please see example 1, example 2, and example 3 for starters.)

Luke Evans makes a great Gaston – his voice is terrific (if not quite so bass as the original), and he follows the character journey from egotistical idiot with rape culture hints to increasingly creepier and scarier and nastier until a full-fledged Disney villain (in our theater, as he ‘exited’ the stage, some kid in the back said “Bye!” Really showcased the tragedy of the moment.) Josh Gad is a great LeFou, with his experience in Frozen and The Book of Mormon already proving his singing talents, with the character becoming more than the punchline and butt of a joke (not going to give the details) while Gad simultaneously showcases his comedic talents.

The servants/objects are all amazing in their roles. Ewan McGregor valiantly pulls through on the French accent, performing excellently in ‘Be Our Guest’ and brings to life all of Lumière’s charm and good humor. Ian McKellen (a finalist to voice Cogsworth in the original movie) is appropriately stuffy and tightly-wound while providing more of a bass to the character’s voice. Emma Thompson has all the warmth and maternal affection of Mrs. Potts, doing quite well in performing the title number, and her son Chip (Nathan Mack) retains all his precocious adorableness. Gugu Mbatha-Raw makes a great Featherduster/Plumette, and Audra McDonald provides a stupendous voice in an expanded role for the Wardrobe/Madame Garderobe – plus a touching plotline with new character, her husband Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci, transformed into an organ). All of them come to life with terrific visual effects, and bring humor and heart (more of it) into the story.

Some things that had been brought up in discussion of this film that led to some consideration of it as an ‘improvement’ over the original was the resolution/addressing and removal of the supposed ‘problems’ of the first: the debate over Stockholm Syndrome and apparent ‘bestiality’. Even when Belle takes her father’s place, she has initially no intention of remaining (as is made very clear), and so her return after the ‘wolf scene’ makes it much clearer that her stay is brought about by choice this time. The curse she is also more actively aware of (in the original, she did “figure it out on [her] own” that the castle was ‘enchanted’), and though the full ‘details’ are never realized/revealed (some parts deliberately), she does become aware at one point that the Beast was once a human, thus removing any stain of ‘inappropriate attraction’.

Additional details provided help realize the story in a way that addresses former plot holes: the castle and its inhabitants had been erased from the memories of those who knew them, and no one aged throughout because the castle and its inhabitants had been frozen in time in an eternal winter. Another interesting addition/explanation provided is the servant’s curse: when all the rose’s petals fall, not only will the Beast remain one forever, but the servants will transform fully into inanimate objects (a process that has apparently been going on over time; one that bears a resemblance to the behind-the-scenes psychological transformation aspects intended for the Beast in the original movie). The never-quite-explained motive for cursing the servants as well is given here (though it’s been touched upon in the Broadway musical): when Belle angrily asks why they were cursed, as they “did nothing”, Mrs. Potts sadly points out how accurate that was – as the Prince became worse and worse, they “did nothing”, and for that there’s blame (and a curse) to share amongst them.

(Also, I find it kind of cool that the directors remembered that yes, non-white people HAD actually been invented by the 18th century, and realized that they thus could (and did) cast non-white actors as some of the servants.)

The story of Beauty and the Beast was the first time made fully special by its music, and the directors/producers knew better than to remove the songs that were its glory – even adding a few along the way. Though no Broadway songs make it into the movie (for reasons understandable, to have it better stand on its own), some underscorings and shout-outs to them do appear: when Belle is escorted to her room, the instrumentals of the song ‘Home’ appear; during the new song ‘Days In The Sun’ we hear the line ‘A Change in Me’ appear during a section that mimics the themes of said song. All of the new songs are wonderful – shoutouts especially to ‘Days in the Sun’ and ‘Evermore’ (the Beast’s amazingly performed solo). The original songs do appear in stunning scenes, with a few ‘new’ lyrics (some were apparently discarded from the original) providing interesting additions. ‘Gaston’ has a few ranging from the ‘foreshadowing’ (this does not count as spoilers because I knew even when I heard it at that point in the movie that it was foreshadowing) (G: When I hunt, I sneak up with my quiver/And beasts of the field say a prayer/First, I carefully aim for the liver/Then I shoot from behind/LF: Is that fair?/G: I don’t care) to the ‘extremely entertaining (and actually improvised in part)’ (ALL: There's just one guy in town/Who's got all of it down.../LF: And his name's G-A-S...T...I believe there's another T...It just occurred to me that I'm illiterate and I've never actually had to spell it out loud before...); one part in ‘The Mob Song’ is particularly accurate and insightful (“There's a beast running wild, there's no question/But I fear the wrong monster's released”) (not saying who because spoilers). As for the score…I was worried about that, that they’d try to mess with some of the best parts (Death/Transformation) to replace with something ‘cooler/edgy’ – thankfully, the music was put in the hands of wise people. All the songs come off wonderfully (I am so going to have to buy the soundtrack now; Disney, congratulations, you officially own my soul).

The core of the movie, though, is what it’s always been: L.O.V.E. The story even the first time around depended on it; whereas most Disney movies now have love developing on the road to a greater goal, as a part, for Beauty and the Beast love is the main point. Love is what will set the Beast free, and be the adventure (in disguise) Belle has been looking for and give her “someone [who] understand[s]”; love is the endgame written into the plot. And the movie does a wonderful job taking the original parts of the movie, adding in a few new along the way, and making that flourish. Something that was noted by a few people was that they liked it better that instead of the Beast being illiterate in an added scene/the musical [which I then pointed out was a byproduct of the curse, as given in the background, that he had forgotten how to, rather than never learning – also, it’s been a while], they were two bookworms instead. There are so many parts where that really flourishes (though as a Shakespeare geek, I would have preferred ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ as the favorite over ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (and I think the Beast agrees with me), and I would rather, instead of that one part from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ which is kind of taken out of context having something like Sonnet 54 replacing it.), and the buildup is given in terrific banter/dialogue, song, eloquence, and all the emotion and ALL THE FEELS. OTP 4EVA.

Bittersweet and strange, finding you can change, learning you were wrong…

Oops. Well, all in all – it was great. 5 out of 5 (actual, great people) would recommend, two thumbs up, all that bedazzling stuff. See the show, see the spectacle, laugh the laughs, feel the feel, return to the tale as old as time that you can never see too many times and that there can never be too many forms of.

Winter turns to spring/Famine turns to feast/Nature points the way/Nothing left to say…

Beauty and the Beast