Review: Beauty and the Beast

In this tale as old as time (shut up, I’m hilarious…), Dan Stevens stars as a conceited French prince who gets on the wrong side of a sorceress who decides to curse the prince to be transformed into a hideous beast. In frankly a bit of a dick move by the sorceress, the prince’s innocent servants are also transformed into various objects. She also says that if he does not find true love before all the petals of a rose (I guess hourglasses weren’t in fashion at the time?) fall off, he will remain a beast forever. Emma Watson is Belle, romantically pursued by the boorish twit Gaston (Luke Evans), and whose father (Kevin Kline) ends up a prisoner of the Beast at his castle when plucking a rose from his garden without permission. Belle goes in search of her father and too winds up at the castle and pleads with the Beast to let her father go. She even suggests taken her father’s place, which the Beast ultimately allows. Thus slowly begins…a rather creepy romance if you think about it. Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts, a servant turned into a teapot. Sir Ian McKellen is Cogsworth, turned into a clock. Ewan McGregor is Lumiere, turned into a candelabra. Stanley Tucci is Cadenza, turned into a harpsichord. Josh Gad plays Gaston’s fawning companion Le Fou.

Although I very much enjoyed the Disney animated version of this tale, I still feel uneasy about the idea of a hunky guy turned into a beast who earns the love of a woman and then gets to turn back into a hunk, just ‘coz he’s not a prick anymore. I mean, shouldn’t the idea be that she falls for the changed person he is on the inside therefore he doesn’t even have to turn back into a hunky dude? Anyway, it bothered me then and it bothers me now, but I was more bothered with the fact that this 2017 live-action remake of the animated film (and yes, it is a direct remake of the 1991 film and not any previous version of the oft-told tale) from director Bill Condon (“Sister, Sister”, “Gods and Monsters”, “Kinsey”, “Mr. Holmes”) should exist at all. It’s fine to do another version of the tale, but why does the perfectly fine animated film itself need a live-action remake? At any rate it exists, so the next question is whether it’s good enough to justify its existence? No, not really. This one’s gorgeous, but otherwise a bit ‘meh’, and in one aspect rather foul. And yes it’s the aspect you’re thinking of, but no, not for the reason you’re thinking. We’ll get to that later.

The film’s biggest asset is its look. This truly looks sensational, all the money is right up there on the screen. No expense has been spared and the CGI looks good too, even on The Beast. The CGI on Lumiere and Cogsworth is particularly wonderful, whilst Sir Ian McKellen works well as the latter, and I must confess to not even recognising Ewan McGregor’s voice for the former. The one issue I have with McGregor is that he can’t sing, so it throws the otherwise charming ‘Be Our Guest’ out of whack. Surprisingly Emma Thompson works rather well as the cockney-accented Mr. Potts. In fact, not only is her accent even better than Angela Lansbury’s in the original, she sings the title song (the film’s best before and now) rather well, too in what is easily this film’s best scene. These little characters are what brought the Disney magic to the animated version, and they are a highlight again here. Meanwhile, Gaston is as usual the best character in the story (which, despite the icky central conceit is still one of the better stories Disney have put to film), even if Luke Evans isn’t a particularly impressive actor. He’s OK in the part (a part that Patrick Warburton was surely born for), and that probably sums up star Emma Watson, too. They’re acceptable, if not riveting and Watson can actually sing rather well. It’s a bit odd that Kevin Kline’s singing services weren’t called upon a bit more as Belle’s father, given Kline’s musical theatre background. Still, he’s fine in the part and gets one song at least.

On the downside is the controversial element I alluded to earlier. My problem isn’t that Disney have included a gay character into a film, far from it. I see no issue so long as it doesn’t feel shoe-horned in (and it really doesn’t feel inorganic. Unnecessary maybe, but not inorganic). No, my issue is that Disney had a chance here to give us the first gay character in a Disney film and they’ve completely botched it in just about the most offensive way possible. Josh Gad can sing, that’s one thing I can say in his favour. Unfortunately, he and Disney give us a mincing, fawning lackey to the film’s villain. He’s an unsympathetic stereotype. I’m not saying all gay characters have to be good guys/girls, as that would be unfair, too. However, for the first-ever (at least that we know of) gay Disney character…are you sure you really wanted to make it this character? A massive disappointment from the director of “Gods and Monsters” I must say as he and Josh Gad set gay representation back to 1996 at the very least, if not further. Seriously, we’re talking borderline Nathan Lane antics here. As to the homophobes out there who threw hissy fits about the film: Relax, there’s barely any ‘gay’ content in the film, Le Fou’s a minor character and the only real ‘gay’ moment in the film is about 1.5 seconds of perfectly chaste guy-guy dancing at the end. Blink and you’ll likely miss it. Also while I have your barely existent attention, you should probably try to y’know…not be homophobic or hateful jerks in the first place. That’d be good, too. I also think the film ends up copping out with his character when it’s all said and done. I mean, take out the fact he’s gay for just a second. If you’re gonna set this character up as an unsympathetic sycophant (and he is) you need to have him held accountable by the end. That doesn’t happen, nor does the character question Gaston’s actions anywhere near as much as I’d heard the character would in order to deserve a redemption by the end. So the character for me is an all-round mistake, and it’s a shame given what a positive thing it could’ve been had they perhaps chosen a different character in a different film, rather than this wimpy, mincing shit weasel.

Elsewhere, Dan Stevens doesn’t register much as The Beast, but he too is partially the victim of a poor script that fails to make The Beast and The Prince feel like even remotely the same character. Stevens should take some of the blame there, but it’s poor screenwriting too from Stephen Chbosky (writer-director of the excellent “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (the live-action non-Disney “Hercules” with Dwayne Johnson, which was considerably better than Disney’s animated version). On a smaller note, I also think the screenwriters have over-egged the portrayal of French society from the era as being not just chauvinistic, but overly so to a degree where it just seems forced and caricatured. Odd that the animated film should have more subtlety, but it’s true.

I wish I liked this. It looks incredible, but it does nothing else that the animated film didn’t do better and 40 minutes shorter than this one. It’s…watchable at times, but tedious at others and a bit flat. It pretty much stopped dead for me about an hour in. Most of the actors fail to stand out, Josh Gad does for the wrong reasons (though he’s been handed a lemon to begin with) in a sycophantic characterisation that made me rather angry. This just isn’t very good, and it probably wasn’t a very good decision to have made it (Unlike the recent Jon Favreau remake of “The Jungle Book” which is actually jolly good). Also, whoever does the duet of the title song over the end credits…is doing it wrong. Just had to get that out there, too.

Rating: C+


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