Rehashing a story that rehashes another story doesn’t create more hash? Sheesh, y’all. What a wonderful thing is this reimagining that it can invigorate previous fans, and draw in troves of new ones too.
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson
Director: Bill Condon
re-released on blu-ray June 6, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%, Audience Score 83%
The Guardian: ***/*****
Bill Condon is an American screenwriter and director, best known for his dual roles in Gods and Monsters as well as with Dreamgirls. He also had success directing Kinsey, Mr. Holmes, and very recently the 2017 version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
And that is the topic I shall choose to write about. Mostly because I bought a copy and watched it last week.
Taken from Wikipedia and edited –
In pre Revolution era-France, an enchantress disguised as a beggar (Hattie Morahan) arrives at a ball and offers the prince (Dan Stevens), a rose for shelter. When he refuses, she transforms him into a monstrous beast and his servants into household objects, and erases the castle from the memories of their loved ones. She casts a spell on the rose and warns the prince that, unless he learns to love another and earn their love in return before the last petal falls, he and his servants will lose their humanity forever.
Years later, in the village of Villeneuve, Belle (Emma Watson) dreams of adventure and brushes off advances from Gaston (Luke Evans), an arrogant former soldier. Lost in the forest, Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) seeks refuge in the Beast’s castle, but the Beast imprisons him for stealing a rose. Belle ventures out in search for him and finds him locked in the castle dungeon. The Beast agrees to let her take Maurice’s place, despite her father’s objections.
Belle befriends the castle’s servants, who treat her to a spectacular dinner. When she wanders into the forbidden west wing and finds the rose, the Beast, enraged, scares her into the woods. She is cornered by a pack of wolves, but the Beast rescues her and is injured in the process. A friendship develops as Belle nurses his wounds. The Beast shows Belle a gift from the enchantress, a book that transports readers wherever they want. Belle uses it to visit her childhood home in Paris, where she discovers a plague doctor mask. Belle realizes that she and her father were forced to leave her mother’s deathbed as her mother succumbed to the plague.
In Villeneuve, Gaston sees rescuing Belle as an opportunity to win her hand in marriage and agrees to help Maurice. When Maurice learns of his ulterior motive and rejects him, Gaston abandons him to the wolves. Maurice is rescued by a hermit, Agathe, but when he tells the townsfolk of Gaston’s crime, Gaston convinces them to send him to an insane asylum.
After sharing a romantic dance with the Beast, Belle discovers her father’s predicament using a magic mirror. The Beast releases her to save Maurice, giving her the mirror to remember him with. At Villeneuve, Belle proves Maurice’s sanity by revealing the Beast in the mirror to the townsfolk. Realizing that Belle loves the Beast, Gaston has her thrown into the asylum carriage with her father and rallies the villagers to follow him to the castle to kill the Beast. Maurice and Belle escape and Belle rushes back to the castle.
During the battle, Gaston abandons his companion LeFou (Josh Gad), who sides with the servants to fend off the villagers. Gaston attacks the Beast in his tower, who is too depressed to fight back, but regains his will upon seeing Belle return. He spares Gaston’s life before reuniting with Belle. However, Gaston fatally shoots the Beast from a bridge, but it collapses when the castle crumbles and he falls to his death. The Beast dies as the last petal falls and the servants become inanimate. When Belle tearfully professes her love to him, Agathe reveals herself as the enchantress and undoes the curse, repairing the crumbling castle and restoring the Beast’s and servants’ human forms and the villagers’ memories. The Prince and Belle host a ball for the kingdom, where they dance happily.
This version of the film does well to increase the mythos of this fairy tale, all while adding in additional songs, but never losing the main story nor the music which made it so memorable in the first place, but it does fairy fail in other ways. Learning more of the princes backstory, why the servants became objects, and the reason Belle has no mother are interesting, but add a lot of time to the story.
In some ways it makes it a far more beautiful telling of the story, though it doesn’t significantly improve the stock of it’s Disney characters. Except for Gaston and Lefou… Their performances are noteworthy and feel very fresh throughout.
Pros: Luke Evans and Josh Gad provide a far more nuanced and complex relationship for their characters, and Lefou is a scene stealer to be clear. Emma Watson does well in revitalizing and addressing the persona of Belle. Heck, even the new song the Beast sings is pretty swell.
Cons: Kevin Kline just doesn’t quite cut the mustard as Maurice nor does Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts. Their performances seem a little phoned in and do a lot to slow the story down in addition to 45 minutes worth of new songs and the aforementioned backstory updates.
Runtime: 2 hours 9 minutes
Points of Interest: During the Be Our Guest sequence, a model of Aladdin’s Agrabah castle appears. Belle takes on the role of inventor in this film over Maurice because Emma Watson wanted Belle to have more of a back story, and a better reason for being treated differently by the villagers. And in case you didn’t already know, Le Fou is Disney’s first official gay character.
A story rehashed from a story already rehashed, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast works to window dress a film which is already well love by many, but guilty of the falling into the same philosophical challenges of its predecessor – love is the answer. The realist in me knows that love is hard work and to expect that love alone will cure sickness (read: mental health) and prejudice (read: sexism, violence and hate) is a silly aspiration, but the underpinning message of Beauty and the Beast can’t seem to shake it.
I’m happy that movies are being made like Goat, Moonlight and Nocturnal Animals. They address issues of toxic masculinity and other not-so-fun global problems, so I’ll say good on Emma Watson for injecting a stronger voice and presence in to Belle, and good on Bill Condon for keeping this movie a musical, and good on Disney for updating this story, but please can we stop making the same tales as old as time?