Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Directed by: Bill Condon | 129 minutes | family, fantasy, musical, romance | Actors: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Hattie Morahan, Haydn Gwynne, Gerard Horan, Ray Fearon, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha- Raw, Clive Rowe, Thomas Passen, Gizmo, Rita Davies, DJ Bailey, Adrian Schiller, Harriet Jones, Adam Mitchell, Henry Garrett
It sometimes seems like everything that comes out of the stable of Walt Disney Studios turns to gold, but that really hasn’t always been the case. Of course, back when Walt himself and his older brother Roy held sway over the animated film empire, virtually every production they put out was a roaring success, both commercially and artistically. But after their deaths in 1966 and 1971 respectively, management fell into the hands of less capable leaders. Films were released, but they did not score as well as the films from the period before 1971. When during the production of ‘The Fox and the Hound’ (1981) prominent artists such as Don Bluth also gave up (Bluth started his own production company and took seventeen other Disney colleagues with him) the studio seemed to be dying. A hostile takeover was averted just in time. After Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg took the helm, the studio increasingly focused on live action movies. In order not to completely lose sight of the animation branch, Roy E. Disney – son of Roy Sr. – was appointed as chairman. A golden opportunity, it would soon become apparent, because the period from 1989 to 1999 went down in the books as the ‘Disney Renaissance Era’. With films such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989), ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991), Aladdin’ (1992) and ‘The Lion King’ (1994), the studio quickly put itself back in the spotlight.
The Disney princesses from those later films were a lot more modern and free-spirited than their predecessors. Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas and Mulan don’t want to be dependent on a man, but they do their own thing if they can. That gives them more ‘face’ than the dreamy, beautiful but rather one-sided princesses from the successful period 1937 to roughly 1967 (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella). The 21st century continues to bring great success to Disney (‘Frozen’, 2013, is the most lucrative animated film of all time), but the studio is also reinventing itself by re-releasing existing animation classics as live action remakes. Think of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (2010), ‘Maleficent’ (2014), ‘Cinderella’ (2015) and ‘The Jungle Book’ (2016). The latest offshoot on this tree is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (2017), a remake of the 1991 Disney film of the same name, which in turn was inspired by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s eighteenth-century French fairy tale (although she is not the original writer of the story, her version is probably the best known). Belle has undergone some changes over time; in Emma Watson’s version, she’s an outspoken feminist, having invented a makeshift washing machine so she can delve into Shakespeare’s oeuvre or teach a girl to read while she’s doing the laundry. In that sense, she is not far from Watson himself, who seizes every opportunity to speak out for women’s rights.
For those unfamiliar with the story, or for those too long ago to remember: Belle (Emma Watson) is a young woman who lives with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline – an inventor in the original but a clockmaker here). lives in a small French country village. Her mother died when Belle was just born, so she is very dependent on her father. Belle is the prettiest girl in the village, who, however, is seen as eccentric by most villagers because she always has her nose in the books. The vain and arrogant Gaston (Luke Evans), whom all the girls in the village are in love with, has his eye on Belle, but she doesn’t see him, much to his chagrin. One day Maurice leaves for the market. Belle asks if he would like to bring a rose for her. However, a storm rears its head and Maurice hopes to find shelter in a Gothic castle shrouded in icy cold. When he finds out it’s bewitched – the candlesticks, clocks and teapots turn out to be alive! – he flees. In the garden he quickly picks up a rose for his daughter, but that is seen by the master of the house, a terrifying beast (Dan Stevens) that captures him. When Belle travels after him and finds out what happened, she allows herself to be captured in exchange for her father’s freedom.
That beast is, in fact, a ferociously attractive but snobbish prince who, years ago, mistreated an old beggar. However, that woman turned out to be a sorceress, who turned him into a terrifying monster as punishment for his inhospitality. The servants were also bewitched. The curse will not be lifted until the beast learns to love someone, and that person starts to love him too. But this must be done in time, in this case before the last petal of the sorceress’s magic rose falls, otherwise he will remain a beast forever.
This live action remake from director Bill Condon (‘Dreamgirls’, 2006) closely follows the lines set by its animated predecessor in 1991. The storyline was only changed at a few points. Despite this, the film is no less than 45 minutes longer. Most of the extra time is taken up by backstory. There is a prologue in which we see the partying prince deny the beggar entry, thereby sealing his fate, and we learn exactly what happened to Belle’s mother. Other minor changes can be found in side characters. In certain countries there was a lot of buzz around the character Le Fou (Josh Gad), who flirts with and adores his best friend Gaston quite ostentatious. Apart from the fact that it is very outdated that in these countries a film is refused because of a homosexual character, Le Fous’s orientation does not really add anything to the story. The power of the animated film was its magic, combined with a series of irresistible songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, who died in 1991. That music is not missing in the remake, and the songs by Menken and Ashman are still rock solid. Showstoppers like ‘Belle’, ‘Gaston’ and ‘Be Our Guest’ set the mood for the film and Watson and the other actors manage to hide the fact that they are not born singers. Three new songs, written by Menken and Tim Rice, were added to the soundtrack, and of those three, “Evermore,” sung by baritone Stevens, is the one that sticks out the longest.
Visually, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a bombastic spectacle. Incidentally, live action is a broad concept, because Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Bringing Potts (Emma Thompson), Maestro Candanza (Stanley Tucci), Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and all other household goods to life has relied heavily on CGI, and computer-assisted techniques were used for the beast—at least in its face. applied. The result is spectacular to watch. a lot happens, but at the same time the film remains hollow. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this is a blueprint of the animation film from 1991 and therefore has nothing ‘specific’, but whoever has seen both films will irrevocably compare. And in that comparison, this remake scores just a little lower on all points than its predecessor. The magic is less, the compassion for the characters is less, the singing voices are less. By less we still mean a considerable level, because ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has a high entertainment value. But this live-action musical take on the time-honored French fable has, on the whole, less eternal value than the 1991 animation classic.