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Beauty and the Beast Goes Big And Then Goes Home

Jeremiah

Jeremiah

Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.
Jeremiah

Bill Condon is the only person who could direct a live-action adaptation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. He is drawn to stories about outsiders such as Gods And Monsters or Mr. Holmes. Condon is also no stranger to the fantastical Candyman: Farewell to The Flesh or Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 & 2I haven’t even mentioned Dreamgirls, the Beyonce musical and winner of five Academy Awards. If you’re looking for a man who could bring the classic and beloved tale of Belle and the Beast to life, Bill Condon is uniquely qualified.

When the movie goes all out, larger than life, this is a musical with a capital ‘M”. It’s a joy. The movie starts out roaring out of the gate. It’s the mandatory prologue telling us about the selfish prince and the hag who curses him to a life of bestial purgatory. The movie adds a bit about how the village is cursed so as to have forgotten about the prince, which neatly closes a plot hole from the animated film.

It’s a terrific scene. The Prince is throwing a ball for some reason or other, but Condon and his cinematographer Tobias Schliessler really allow us to experience the opulence and decadence of the Prince’s lifestyle. There’s a lushness to the scenes that lend an air grandiosity to the whole enterprise. 

We then meet Belle (Emma Watson) in a rousing classical old school MGM musical number “Belle”. The only real flaw in the number is Watson. She’s not terrible. She’s not great either. In the end, she’s good enough. The townspeople tell us about how Belle is such an odd duck because she reads and has opinions.

We also meet Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad), and we realize holy crap these two can sing. Evans and Gad have terrific chemistry together as they sing and ham their way through the movie. Everybody is good. They’re too damn talented not to be. You have Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Audra Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Dan Stevens.

Beauty and the Beast is filled with little moments by great actors working with a great director and landing a solid emotional punch. The problem is it’s all peaks and valleys. For example “Be Our Guest” is so much fun you almost think the movie has found it’s groove. It’s a visual spectacle worth of Disney and Condon. But then there’s a never-ending scene where the Beast has a solo. It’s drab and monotonous. The melody and the lyrics are ill-suited for each other. There’s a rousing orchestral moment during the ‘feel sad now’ moment, and the whole thing just feels forced.

The main problem is Belle and the Beast. Watson is an immensely talented actress, but she’s not given much to do here. Stevens, who I fucking loved in The Guest is usually magnetic and intense. Here the two seem to miss each other even while sharing the same screen.

Part of it is the special effects. Stevens as the Beast is… off. His look is almost more man than beast. The way the Beast is rendered, while visually striking, lends the character an air of not really existing with any kind of weight. There were times in Kong: Skull Island where the giant ape felt real, even though I knew he wasn’t. He seemed to exist in his space. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle and Beast often share the same space without feeling like they are.

It doesn’t help that Belle and the Beast hardly talk to each other. Sure they have scenes together, but rare is the scene where the two actually converse. Most of Watson’s scenes are with the servants in the mansion: Cogsworth, Lumiere, and company. These scenes mire Watson in exposition and give her little chance to do any acting.

But holy Jeebus does this movie look gorgeous. Does it feel like a giant mega-budget Broadway musical that someone adapted to film? Yes, but with three great songs and a few original, oddly tempoed songs thrown in just to keep the movie from being good.

Honestly, Beauty and the Beast is kind of a mess. It’s rote and boring for long stretches of time. There are expected emotional payoffs that come up empty because the movie hasn’t done the leg work to make us feel it. There’s added backstory about Belle’s mother, but it really doesn’t add anything other than information. Whatever emotional payoff it tries to wrangle out of it comes up wanting.

The changes made to the original 1991 animated movie feel more like padding than organic changes to flesh out characters or story arcs. I did like the diversity in casting, though. It was nice to see PoC play characters that didn’t require them to be PoC. (Though, show of hands, who would have loved to see Mbatha-Raw as Belle?) As for all the hullabaloo about Gad’s LeFou and his gay moment? I’d say if you blink you’ll miss it, only I didn’t blink and I still missed it. It was only as the credits rolled that I realized the moment that caused all the ruckus.

Disney has been re-imaging their classic animated movies into live action adaptations for a few years now. With each one, they’ve tried to update the story or look at it through a non-patriarchal lens. In other words, they were updates, reboots, remakes, whatever you want to call them. They were stories that tried to do something different than the original.

Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast added thirty minutes to its runtime and little else. This is a kid-friendly movie for the whole family. It’s also a toothless bore throughout most of its run. This shouldn’t be. The people behind the camera, as well as the people in front, are too damned talented for something this mediocre.


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
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  • Katie

    Great review!

    I thought it was fine; I’m also not sure there’s any reason for it to exist. A lot of it felt like a slightly-lesser-than version of the animated version. And when it did deviate, I felt the drop in quality was kinda jarring.

    I like Emma Watson, but I don’t think she really did anything here. You’re right that she didn’t have much to work with, but the performance still felt drab – she had no real character arc and Watson didn’t have enough personality in the role to imbue it with one.

    I thought Luke Evans was surprisingly great as Gaston, though.

    • JSherman

      Evans was amazing.

  • Will113

    Apparently in this film the Beast has a magic book which can travel anywhere in the world. He uses it to take Belle to her old family house in Paris, and afterwards it plays no role in the rest of the film. Just seems like that should be more important.

    • Katie

      Yeah – that scene, as with a couple other smaller additions, really adds nothing to the movie. I got the impression that they felt like they had to add something new – it’s just that what was new was very unmemorable. I found all the new music to be very dull too.

      It’s interesting, because nearly all the new stuff aims at further fleshing out Belle and the Beast. But as Jeremiah points out, they are still probably the weakest part of the film.

      • JSherman

        Stuff like the book, or even the notion the Prince was emotionally and psychologically abused by his father makes no sense. It doesn’t make the Prince/Beast more complex as much as it does make him kind of a victim.

        Pile onto that the servants were punished for not doing anything about it-he’s a Prince which means his father was a king. So it would have damn near impossible to have done anything against him without being charged with a some form of treason.

        • Katie

          I know! I found that part particularly upsetting. All the servants sitting around saying “I mean it’s a bummer that we’re all turning into inanimate objects, but it’s really on us, right? Letting the king spoil his kid? As castle cooks and maids, we really should have shut that down.”

          Making the Prince an abuse victim introduces a whole complicated layer of issues to the film, but the film doesn’t seem at all interested in actually dealing with any of them. It just read as a lazy short cut to convey “aww, look! he’s not a jerk, he’s just been mistreated! all his behavior is excusable!”

          • Barbara Kateřina

            Coming late to the party, but I saw the film recently and I think that’s the main issue with it, in general – the new bits are not integrated into the film well, or at all. They don’t impact the story on any level, even though they are often things that really should. The most glaring care for me was how the relationship Belle has with the townspeople was radically changed from “she’s odd but we like her” to outright bullying, but the lyrics of the intro song stayed the same, as did all the canonical interactions of Belle and the “masses”. But there were tons of others cases like this, like the mother backstory, the prince backstory, the servants’ backstory, …

  • Percival Salamander

    What are the chances of Lesbian Elsa after all of this? Somehow this feels like a step back.

  • Mims Dahn

    I thought it was a mess (but a visual appealing one) and not Watson’s fault. It is curious, but in my country criticism of Watson’s performance follows gender lines. The mess is very much Condon’s.

    He doesn’t know who he wante Maurice to be through the movie or in what (mental) space he wants to be, though he is much more dialled back in this movie. Inventor or artist? Hale or not. He has a mid Life crisis in the middle of the movie and is pimped up by Agatha for his confrontation with Gaston. And he forgets Belle in his Beef with Gaston.

    He wasted time on Agatha but keeps her saintly “pure”

    • Katie

      I’d definitely agree that the major flaws of the movie aren’t Watson’s fault. I stil don’t think she was particularly good in the role, though – her voice was okay but not anything special, and her performance just felt boring and flat.

      • Mims Dahn

        I think a part of the problem was that Belle was not made into a good role in this movies. There were adaptive changed made to her. Condon’s Belle is more “scrappy” and inventive than the original. But it is all for exposition. The new Belle, who wears a part of her dress in her knickers, does only invent for Condon to illustrate how she is ostracized in the village. She does not invent anything more for the entire movie nor does her “scrappiness” realize itself in any actions. Belle does not escape the Castle on the rope she makes but flees like in the old movie. She does not pick the lock on the prison carriage. Instead the aid of Chip is traded in for a father-daughter moment with Maurice. And it is still Maurice that has to pick the lock. Belle just assists. And when the relationship of father daughter has changed so much (Maurice is a doddering, crazy inventor in the original, one that Belle “mothers” quite a bit) it does not carry the same weight. Her new “inventiveness” and “scrappiness” do not really impact the showdown between Beast and Gaston either. And she repeats the same mistakes as old Belle (showing the villager the mirror) despite these changes and the fact that her relationship with the villages has considerably cooled. And that scene would probably always be difficult to translate into live action because it is very innocent and naive moment that does not compute well with new Belle, especially considering the treatment Condon now has depicted Belle receiving from the villagers.

        So you have these seeming innocuous changes that pulls the role in different directions. Making it not such a great role, or at least not a very consistent one. You have small facts like Condon not really settling for who Belle is. Like she is singing about the village “provincial life” but she left the capital as a baby. Provincial life is what she knows. How is she surprised by Agatha’s “plight” when Gaston points to her?

    • Ivana Cvetanovic

      A person in their 30s is not “middle-aged” by any definition of that word.

      • Mims Dahn

        Age is relative. It is something you learn when you begin to get into your thirties. Even in Europe what is perceived as “middle age” varies vastly from country to country, but on average we agree approx 41. But if you go to countries like Sweden (and Malta and Portugal etc) you’re middle aged in your thirties. It also depends on life expectancy. So sorry, not sorry: it does. Check out the Special Eurobarometer 378.

        Signed a happily middle aged woman at Cousin Matthew’s age.

        • Ivana Cvetanovic

          No, it does not depend on life expectancy at all. People in Ancient Rome were not middle aged at 13 because average life span was 26.

          Middle age means the age when you are not considered young anymore, but are not old, either. When exactly that is is a matter of opinion, but on average it seems that the idea is, between 45 and 65. Some may lower the lower bar to 40, some raise it to 50, but by no definition is anyone under 40 considered “middle aged”. Between 20 and 40 (or 18 to 45, depending on who you ask), you’re just what the phrase “young adult” should actually mean (because, contrary to what US librarians seem to think, teenagers are not adults). A 35 year old is a young person, period.

          • Mims Dahn

            You are really just trolling now. Firstly, Rome is your misconception. I did not say it you did and I think you are perfectly aware why even using life expectancy at birth for this type of argument is flawed.

            Life expectancy is actually relevant, because it is a large factor for the perception of when you are no “longer considered young”. Curiously, it is not necessarily a deciding factor. Life expectancy at birth in Sweden was 81 at the time of the survey, but the people with that life expectancy was hardly the ones of that life expectancy (for they were just born). But many of the people surveyed would have had on average quite a high life expectancy at birth and would have lived with that expectancy. Still they put “not young” at 37. So obviously by some definitions and by a lot of people think you are middle aged. Where I am from you are middle aged when you’re in your thirties. Life expectancies remain low in my community as they are in many indigenous communities cross the world.

            I am not going to continue discussing this with you, because I am having a hard time trusting this is anything other than trolling.

          • Ivana Cvetanovic

            *I* am trolling? Are you kidding me?? You are the one trying to seriously argue that 35 is “middle aged”. And then getting hostile after someone points out that it’s an incorrect usage of the term. I don’t know why I’m even talking to you like a normal person.

          • Mims Dahn

            You find a quibble. You don’t address any of the other points and you don’t relate your quibble to the topic at hand (which is the movie Beauty and the Beast). You don’t argue with my points but creates new ones which are blatanly ridiculous (that a Roman teenager would be percieved as “middle aged” and the definition that middle aged is “in the middle of Life” or 13 for a Roman with a Life ecpectancy at birth of 26) andI have not held, nor are the logical conclusion of the position I have held and project them onto me. It is a Straw man. That is hostile.. You are obviously intentionally misreading me. You d I gave factual evidence for how “middle age” is percieved differently across cultures. You basically confirmed them in your post about where you admitted that you can become “middle aged” at both 40 and 50.I said in my first reply that the European”consensus” is 41 years old, and pointed out that it diverged, with countries such as Sweden(37 years old) and there therefore are countries where you can be middle aged and in your thirties.

            These are all trolling behaviours and tactics. They are hostile. I have no interest in arguing with someone who are using those, are not reading the replies and, argues from foregone conclusion about middle age in general and not how Dan Stevens age and casting impacted the character Beast.

  • Bo

    This sounds exactly like what I expected. I hoped for better, but expected what you’re saying here.

  • Kaesy

    The backstory on Belle’s mom may not have added much, but man, it was sure nice to have her existence *acknowledged* after all the Missing Moms of Disney Princess movies.

    (I loved this movie excessively, but I am a voracious consumer of any and every adaptation of Beauty and the Beast I can get my hands on, so I understand myself to be a bit biased. And personally I loved the Beast’s solo song.)