Beauty and the Beast (2017)

“A broken clock is right two times a day, mon ami. But this is not one of those times.”

Beauty and the Beast (2017) is an ambitious – and costly – remake of Disney’s 1991 animated version of the same name. (Beware: spoilers follow)

Emma Watson, the star of the Harry Potter movies, seems perfect for the title role, for Belle is a fairy-tale Hermione — she is both bookish and brave. Watson certainly looks the part of the original Belle, or as close as I can imagine any human looking. Many of the visuals were absolutely terrific, giving a sense of three dimensions to what was a cartoon. Not all reviewers were impressed by the movie’s efforts with CGI and other effects, but I thought this aspect was pretty good, especially when you consider the challenges. Other movies are not trying to replicate such an exact appearance, but Beauty and the Beast (2017) did pretty darn well — and even improved on the original in some scenes — the castle, the town, parts of the forest. In a few the new movie did not, such as when the Beast reverts to human form, but how could that be possible?

When remaking a movie, the creators have a particular decision to make that impacts every single frame. For each detail, should they stick to the original or not? If they are too close to the original, then what is the point of a new version? If they stray too far, will viewers be disappointed, even cheated?

Some choices were good:

Beauty and the Beast (2017) addressed some points of confusion in the animated version. I loved the original, but was puzzled by the changing weather, and wondered which of Earth's seasons we were experiencing. Also, I always thought Mrs. Potts looked more like the grandmother of little Chip. 2017 does not exactly resolve these problems, but it acknowledges them.

I liked the depth given to LeFou by Josh Gad. In the original, when he questions Gaston's wisdom in seeking to marry Belle, LeFou is obviously more perceptive than his friend. In this version he is even more perceptive.

I appreciated how the finale shows the relationships between the villagers and the inmates of the castle. Loved how both sets of people were revealed, both in looks and in perception.

The addition of the Maestro (Stanley Tucci!) as the husband of the Garderobe was terrific.

Kevin Kline was excellent as Maurice, Belle’s father.

Some choices were so-so:

I liked learning more about the fairy. I did not like her role in the end.

Some of the additional dialogue was great. Other stuff made me scratch my head, as phrases fell so flat that I wondered what movie the editors were watching.

Some choices were bad:

The backstory about Belle’s mother didn’t work. I liked the idea that she was brave, and the mention of the plague was kind of interesting – but it seemed irrelevant. It was trying to be deep but felt pointless and disconnected.

Sometimes the makeup/CGI of the Beast reminded me too much of Worf of Star Trek’s TNG and DS9.

Alas, and this is serious, the music was not nearly as good as the 1991 animated version. I can understand. When casting for the animated version, the directors had only one real criterion to meet – voice – whereas physical actors had both to sing and to act and to look the part of the original (cartoon!) movie made 26 years before. Those are many disparate characteristics, difficult to unite in a single person. And unfortunately, the actors with the largest singing parts – Belle, the Beast, Gaston and Mrs. Potts – fall far short of the voices of the originals (I still thrill at the music when the original Gaston sings, in the incredible opening sequence, “Just watch, I’m going to make Belle my wife!”) Certainly most of these actors sing better than I do. But they do not soar and swell the way that they should, and that is a major issue.

Also, the acting occasionally felt stiff – alas, especially Emma Watson – who seemed too much like the straight and narrow Hermione, rather than the imaginative, adventurous Belle.

Bits and Pieces

Beauty and the Beast (2017) cost $160 million to make! But Disney has already made an enormous profit.

Beauty and the Beast from 1991 cost $25 million back then; in 2017 dollars that's a little under $45 million. And I think it was a better movie.

Belle means "beauty" in French. Phillip, the name of Belle's horse, means "lover of horses" (origin not French). LeFou means "the fool" and Lumière means "light," both French.

Quotes

Belle: Have you really read every one of these books?
Beast: No, not all of them. Some of them are in Greek.

Belle: What's your name?
Cogsworth: That is a hairbrush.

Belle: I never thanked you for saving my life.
Beast: I never thanked YOU for not leaving me to be eaten by wolves.

Lumière: Maestro, your wife is upstairs, finding it harder and harder to stay awake! She's counting on you to help us break this curse!
Maestro Cadenza: Then I shall play through the dental pain!

Maurice: My dear Belle, you're so ahead of your time. This is a small village, and it's small-minded, as well. But small also means safe.

Overall rating


The best quality about this movie is that it introduces a whole bunch of kids to the movie, even in its less-than-perfect version. But the original, with the exception of a few spots, is actually better, and the singing is not as good as it should be. Two magic mirrors out of four.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

So how would you rank this adaptation overall outside of number ratings (which is not to say I don't respect them)? Good, bad, or middle of the road?

Billie Doux said...

An interesting review, Victoria -- thank you. I've been a little upset about this movie even existing because I loved the original so much -- it's my favorite animated movie, ever -- and remakes are so often a disappointment. It sounds like it was pretty good, but a disappointment.

Victoria Grossack said...

To Anonymous: slightly below middle of the road. The story is too wonderful to make bad.

To Billie Doux: I had the same reaction, being a little upset because I feel the same way about the original - but we went to see it anyway because my husband was sure I would love it so he actually lured me away from my desk. I had to work to be fair. But some of the visuals are amazing, and I'm glad that a whole bunch of people will see the story again, because that's still amazing.

Katerina said...

I think I definitely liked this live action version more than you did. Like Billie, the animated version is my favorite animated movie of all time, and I went to see this knowing full well it was probably not going to live up to that, so I didn't have any expectations to be dashed. I just enjoyed it for what it was in my eyes, a compliment to the animated movie. I was actually surprised it was as close in story and really enjoyed seeing a lot of those animated scenes come to life. It wasn't perfect, but I thought it was fun enough. The creepiest part for me was the same as in the animated movie, which is when Gaston goes after the Beast at the end. It seemed even creepier with real people. Btw, maybe I should say that I've been interested in this story long before the Disney animated version came out. I've watched multiple takes on the Beauty and the Beast story going back many years, including the black and white French movie. I'm always interested just to see the different interpretations. (Much like my fascination with the many different versions of Jane Eyre.)

Victoria Grossack said...

Katerina - I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I'm just one of those people more influenced by sound than by sight, and so although I could acknowledge some of the incredible work done with the visuals, I was just too disappointed by the (lack of) vocals. I also appreciate how one can enjoy variations of a story. Victoria

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree about Belle being like Hermione. Hermione always wanted to just stay at school and work. She could see how the world could be better, but she found comfort in the little things. Belle, not so much. She read books to get away from her boring life. Belle wanted to escape, to get away. Though on the surface, Hermione and Belle may be the same, I've always thought that Belle is much more like Harry, never satisfied and always restless for some more adventure. Sorry for the whole rant, but the Hermione-Belle thing has always urked me.