Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beauty and The Beast (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 129 minutes
Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Stanley Tucci, Hattie Morahan

Beauty and The Beast is now showing everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Disney's second time round with Beauty and The Beast breathes spectacular new life into the much adored classic while always remaining lovingly respectful to the original fairy tale and animated original.

For a film that is so enchanting, whimsical and charming, it is incredible how much criticism and backlash Beauty and The Beast has received right through from it's initial announcement in June 2014 to it's recording breaking release in the United States last week and in Australia this week. While a film that has so far made over $460 million worldwide is clearly not being hurt by any criticism it has received, Bill Condon's Beauty and The Best certainly deserves to be defended from the unwarranted, meaningless and clueless backlash it has received.

While it is based on the original story written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and revised by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the film is more so a live-action love letter to it's animated older sibling released by Disney in 1991. In the quaint French village of Villeneuve, Belle (portrayed by Emma Watson) is an outsider as even though she is beautiful, she is considered peculiar as she seems happier with her nose in a book than responding to Gaston's (Luke Evans) romantic advances. Her wishes for adventure are answered when her father (Kevin Kline) is captured by the terrifying Beast (Dan Stevens) in his castle and when Belle ventures to rescue him, she offers herself as prisoner in order for her father to be set free. During her period of stay, Belle finds herself strangely and increasingly drawn towards the Beast and she may be the one to set he and the enchanted members of his household free from their damning spell.

When Disney officially announced that it would be remaking one of it's own into a live action film, it was met with a great deal of scepticism. Since then, it has been met with the predictable backlash that occurs when a beloved family classic is remade. Much of the criticism has proved to have been unwarranted since the release of this film, but Beauty and The Beast has also attracted controversy for it's romanticising of Stockholm Syndrome (which is also completely predictable) and it's very brief "gay scene" (if you can even call it a scene). However, Disney deserves praise once again for overcoming the obstacles of the remake and also deserves defence against the controversy.

The inevitable question that had to be asked in June 2014 was "Why would Disney want to remake a near-perfect film?"

It's a valid question. When Beauty and The Beast was released in 1991, it became the first animated feature film to be nominated in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. It became an instant Disney classic and still remains a favourite Disney film for many, many people. Remakes are absolutely in fashion at the moment and it's not completely crazy to believe that Disney could have just fallen in step with this fad.

However, this is Disney we are talking about. The empire has had tremendous success turning their animations into live action (eg. Cinderella and The Jungle Book) and expanding the universe of their classics (eg. Maleficent and no doubt the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns). If there is one studio that could pull off this mammoth task of bringing Beauty and The Beast to the world of live action and coming away with a success, it is Disney...and they have delivered. That's not just in regards to the incredible box office earnings thus far either.

Beauty and The Beast is truly an exquisite piece of cinema that is absolutely beautiful to behold. Although it is not as grandly emotional, it is certainly touching and very family friendly. Did it need to be remade? Of course it didn't need to. However, Disney saw that the opportunity was there for it's 1991 film to be remade and use live action thanks to the advances in CGI to create something different and special. The CGI does incredible things for the film and helps to make memorable scenes from the original even more memorable and spectacular (including the pivotal dancing "Beauty and The Beast" scene and "Something There" in the snow). The CGI also brings such characters of Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) to life and gives them more refined and intriguing features than what we saw in the animation.
Whilst many will argue that this 2017 film is too much like the original, this is simply not true. One only needs to revisit the original to realise that there are many differences. There are many similarities there too, but with live action comes a whole set of new rules which need to be abided by which don't apply as much to animation. For example, character development is far more important in live action than it is in it's animated counterpart. This is a real treat for those who are fans of the 1991 original, as the characters of Belle, Beast and Gaston (to a lesser extent) are opened up. Although her singing voice may not be as powerful as one would hope for this role, Emma Watson does Belle great justice. She personifies what Belle is about and shows how her character truly is a modern girl in a time where she didn't belong. This does admittedly fit Watson's real life persona, but this character trait and her soft, but strong performance as Belle makes her a perfect Disney princess for these times.

The live action also obviously calls for a different mode of direction and bringing several of the musical numbers to life would have been no simple task. Bill Condon's direction of these Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice musical numbers (several of which were also adapted for this film) is superb and although animation can do a great deal with these songs, what live action gives the viewer is definitely more impressive, especially during "Belle" and "Gaston".

One issue that is always brought to light when Beauty and The Beast is spoken of is the presence of Stockholm Syndrome, which is the concept of the captured coming to feel empathy or developing strong feelings for their capturer through manipulation. It was only inevitable that this was going to arise with the release of this film. Also there is it predictable wrath of those who believe that Beauty and The Beast is dangerously sexist as it depicts a woman being captured and abused by a tyrannical beast. Both of these arguments are redundant here. Belle was never actually captured in this film nor in the original, as her father was captured and she demanded a switch. If there are similarities to Stockholm Syndrome (which there are very little when you look at the actual definition), that is the fault of the original story and not of the filmmakers. However, the condition wasn't even acknowledged until the 1970's so it is highly unlikely this was a theme on the intent in the original story. Beauty and The Beast has always been a romantic fairy tale about not judging a book by it's cover and this is the way it should be read.

Finally, the biggest and most controversial talking point in the past week has been the very brief acknowledgement of Gaston's sidekick, LeFou (played by Josh Gad) as homosexual. Several cinemas around the world have banned the film from being shown because of this inclusion. One can only imagine that the large majority of the outraged haven't actually seen the film, as what they are so up in arms about takes up only a matter of seconds in over two hours. There is absolutely nothing in these few seconds of screen time which is damaging, graphic or crude and all you would have to do is blink to miss it. This controversy is a massive overreaction and there are far more important things to be outraged about in this world rather than whether a Disney film has maybe 20 seconds where a man looks lovingly at another man.

Beauty and The Beast has overcome a great deal of scepticism to become a beautiful film that is an enjoyable and stunning companion piece to it's animated original. It's controversy is completely unfounded and should be enjoyed and praised for exactly what it is.