Beauty and the Beast (2017)
dir. Bill Condon
written by: Stephen Chbosky
starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ian McKellan, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Going to see Beauty and the Beast, the 1991 animated blockbuster, is one of my earliest memories. At around three years old, infantile amnesia was beginning to fade and my love of Angela Lansbury was prone to blossom. The first (and only five wide) animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, this film made a sizable impact with its memorable songs, partially empowered princess, and early use of CGI in animation. Now, swept up by live adaptation fiends at Disney, the first musical adaption joins the lackluster history of Maleficent, The Jungle Book, and Cinderella for people to fall in love with (or get pissed about) all over again.
Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson) grew up, moved to provincial, guillotine era France, and took up beastiality to piss off the Christians and conservative groups. Or, Perks of Being a Wallflower author Stephen Chbosky adapted the musical (and the fairy tale and the 1946 French film La bete et le beast) for Dreamgirls and Kinsey director Bill Condon to modernize an already dated story. By removing the more Stockholm Syndrom-y moments and adding a bit of diversity and queerness, this team concocted a timely yet unoriginal event.
Watson is a steadfast Belle, never a particular worry for an actress who leaves Maya Angelou books in public transit as a hobby. The Beast, played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, is an uncomfortably sexy bear, stirring the desires to be ravaged. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts are hardly revelations, but Ian McKellan shines amongst the furniture as the stodgy Cogsworth and Audra MacDonald’s soprano is finally well utilized in a feature. Where the cast really steps out are the villain and his goon, Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou, respectively. Evans is a surprise with his deep, bellowing takes of “Kill the Beast” and “Gaston,” the most fun number in the show. Gad, a true musical showman, already having won acclaim for Olaf in Frozen and Elder Cunningham in Book of Mormon, monopolizes on the queer quippy nature of the role. As he progresses as an unnecessarily aggressive protector, the humor never dwindles. He’s played as the gay bestie that is never acknowledged by Gaston but who is pleasingly realized in his ambitions.
By diving into Belle’s and Beast’s backstories, Chbosky fills some plot holes glazed by the animated classic, but the scraps from Howard Ashman’s original notes do not add to the narrative. By missing the established hits like “Human Again” and “If I Can’t Love Her,” the producer sacrifice strong integrations for Oscar nomination opportunities. The missteps seem foolish, but it appears the group was aiming for groundbreaking without attending to narrative or structural quality. The added bits don’t quite equal brilliant inclusions, but the finished product suffers mostly from 3D monstrosity syndrome rather than a failure at filmmaking, but until families stop forking over an extra few bucks for wasted effects, it doesn’t seem the missteps will end. With the Oscar nomination ready production and costume design (Sarah Greenwood and Jacqueline Durran, Atonement, Pride and Prejudice; Joe Wright’s preferred ladies will likely compete against themselves with Churchill biopic The Darkest Hour) and an already record breaking opening ($170 million), don’t expect this one to disappear till the final petal (dollar) drops.