Drew’s Great Big Beauty and the Beast Review
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
THERE IS NO GOING BACK
THIS IS A SPOILER-FILLED REVIEW
IT IS ALSO VERY LONG
AND THERE ARE LOTS OF SPOILERS
SO PLEASE BE AWARE
THAT THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE
BEFORE YOU START READING
Let me start off by mentioning how much this movie means to me. I’ve kind of made my niche on the internet by dreamcasting Disney movies as if they were live action. I’ve made a ridiculous number of edits, I mean I’ve spent hours, days, probably weeks on this stuff at this point, and many of these edits have been focused on Beauty and the Beast. Live action versions of Disney movies are like… my Thing. And, to be totally honest, this really is only the second faithful adaptation. Alice in Wonderland was a total reworking of the Alice story, not really a cartoon-to-live-action like this. Maleficent completely retold the story from a different angle by making one Disney’s most vicious villains not only sympathetic but good. Cinderella is so close (and so good, I might add) but visually it’s vastly different from its animated counterpart, especially when it comes to Lady Tremaine and the Fairy Godmother, and it’s not a musical. The Jungle Book is the closest we’ve seen to a real and true “live action remake” as opposed to a live action reinterpretation. But here we are. Disney did it. They took one of their most beloved animated classics and straight-up made it into a live action movie without cutting any songs or really very much at all…
And oh boy, did they knock it out of the park.
I love this movie. This is what I’ve been waiting for.
I love Emma Watson as Belle. I think she’s a wonderful choice, I completely buy into her as Belle. She’s beautiful and intelligent and spunky. Her singing is fine. She’s not Kristin Chenoweth or Sutton Foster, but Belle doesn’t need to be. She’s also not Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis, you know, Emma doesn’t go through a massive transformation and disappear into the role, but she doesn’t need to because she’s already so much like Belle. Still, I don’t find myself watching it thinking about Emma playing the role, I think of her as Belle, which is the goal of acting really. I love that this Belle is so active. I love that she is continuously trying to find a way to escape from the castle. The addition of the laundry machine and teaching the young girl how to read is so good because it actually shows us Belle’s intelligence. In the animated movie, we know Belle’s smart because we’re told Belle’s smart. She reads books and, sure, she acts rationally and she certainly shows the poise of an intelligent person, but this new scene gives us an active example of her intelligence and creativity while also demonstrating the oppressive and small-minded nature of the townspeople. Emma’s Belle is charming and smart and lovely, and I think she captures the essence of Belle perfectly.
All that being said, our two male leads really steal the show for me. I’ve seen the movie twice now and each time, one of the leading gentleman really jumped out. The first time I watched, Luke Evans felt like the true shining star of the film. His Gaston reminds me of Jason Isaacs as both Captain Hook and Lucius Malfoy. He isn’t just vain… this guy is a legitimate narcissist, it seems like his mind has truly been twisted by the war. This Gaston is even more evil than the one we left behind in the world of animation. Gaston has always been terrifying because of his charisma. The way he’s able to charm the people of the village is chilling and this time around we see even more of that trait, paired with a darker and more violent streak particularly illustrated by Gaston tying up Maurice and leaving him for the wolves. Plus, both times I saw the movie the audience gasped in horror when Gaston stomped on Belle’s lettuces.
The second time I saw the film, I was specifically watching for Dan Stevens’s performance as the Beast and man, this is good stuff. The Prince at the beginning is such a drama queen. He’s so over-the-top with his costuming, wig, even his gestures are extremely theatrical. The make up at the beginning is particularly brilliant, burying the Prince’s face in streaks of blue and silver so he still feels like an obscure figure that we don’t quite see. When Belle first meets the Beast, this is all still evident. The way he hides in the shadows, even his lines of dialogue, it’s all very dramatic. And then as the movie progresses, you can see this flair for melodrama fade away as he becomes a more grounded person. He becomes gentler, kinder, and his intelligence, which has always been there, comes forward. By the time we see the Prince again at the end, you can tell that this is the same man but he has been changed. The animated film’s human Prince always felt disconnected from the Beast for me. Sure, they made the eyes the same, but it was hard to see much else because we just see so little of him, so he always felt rather vanilla. That’s not the case here. When the Prince transforms back to a human at the end, this feels like the same character we have watched throughout the film. I’m sure this is aided by the incredible motion capture and CGI work, because the Beast is animated superbly, but Dan’s performance is just stellar.
The objects are perfect. There’s only one shot that I think feels odd (when Belle is carrying Lumiere with Cogsworth walking in front as they lead her to her room) but other than that one moment, I never second guess them as objects. They feel and act real. Lumiere’s movements in particular are incredible, right down to his close up at the start of “Be Our Guest.” I was worried about Plumette before seeing the movie because the bird design is so unusual, but it makes sense since they needed her to be able to fly to get around, and doesn’t feel out of place at all in the movie. Mrs. Potts and Chip are also beautifully animated, they always feel like real and solid objects with weight to them. Their relationship is wonderful, so loving and caring. Chip’s line, “OK. I’m older” is one of my favorite little moments of the whole thing. Cadenza is a wonderful addition to our cast of characters and I did not expect his relationship with Garderobe, but they were an excellent surprise. And Frou Frou! I love that Frou Fou is Garderobe’s and that he becomes Cadenza’s bench and is therefore the link between the two throughout their years in the curse. They’re just so sweet.
Maurice has been an under-reported character in all of this, and that’s a shame because Kevin Klein knocks this role out of the park. He is absolutely wonderful as Maurice. He is fatherly and kind but he has also clearly made mistakes as a parent and that is kind of embraced and understood in the storytelling. He is sincere at all times in a role that is pretty exaggerated in the animated film. If Maurice’s arrival in the tavern had been played exactly like the original, it would have felt campy, but Kevin Klein’s earnestness grounds the moment in reality. Not to mention his quips about snow in June and “apparently that’s what happens around here when you pick a flower” are delivered brilliantly.
Let’s talk Lefou. I don’t like this Lefou, and here’s why. Every other character in this film feels developed in a natural way. It feels like we are learning more information about these characters that has always existed, we just didn’t fit it in the first time around. Lefou, on the other, doesn’t feel like a character who has been developed but a character who has been rewritten. They clearly got the seed of an idea to make him gay but felt squeamish about making him evil and gay (and rightfully so), so they wrote this redemption arc that feels forced and really doesn’t actually go anywhere… Lefou’s turn during the battle with the castle objects doesn’t actually do anything, so the whole thing feels arbitrary. After seeing the film the second time, my friend and I spent probably an hour and a half just talking about Lefou and came up with a brilliant solution to this whole mess of a character… more on that in a moment…
Incorporating the Enchantress into the story is very compelling. I think it’s very obvious who Agatha is throughout the movie, but it gives the sense that she wants the spell to be broken, she wants the Beast to learn his lesson, which is very interesting. Having her arrive after the spell has completed and actively reverse it is a riveting choice, and I actually felt like we were missing a moment with her where she realizes that she made a mistake. When she was watching the separated loved ones reunite, it seemed like there was a seed of remorse that was not addressed.
The character development is very well done across the board, but I think something this movie did that was important and contributes to its success is the development of the spell itself. I think this was one of the most brilliant moves the film made. The eternal winter around the castle explains the sudden weather changes in such a short period of time while still using the seasons as an emotional storytelling technique like the animated film. The wolves are also clearly part of the curse here – I would have actually liked to have seen them included in the finale sequence, either transformed into humans like the objects, or else disappearing like mist with the rest of the eternal winter. Having the castle crumble every time a petal falls from the rose is so smart as well; it explains why the objects know every time a petal fall while also representing their and the Beast’s disintegrating humanity. But the best part of the curse’s development was definitely the memory loss. Adding the simple line to the opening narration about removing the people of the castle from the minds of the people who loved them was absolutely inspired. This one quick line explained a huge loophole that the animated film left regarding the presence of a massive castle in the woods and a royal family that apparently the entirely world did not know about. But even better than that, it created some wonderfully emotional reunions at the end. My friend beside me gasped so loudly when our favorite teapot exclaimed, “Mr. Potts!” and the moment with Henri Cogsworth and his wife(?) was so hilarious and, in my opinion, subtly hinted at our second LGBT character in this universe. Which brings me to the Lefou thing.
Here’s what my friend and I came up with: in the opening sequence, we see Cogsworth lurking in the shadows telling the Prince that “it’s time,” we see Lumiere handing the Prince a candelabra, we see Mrs. Potts chasing after Chip… in the midst of all this, we could also show a masked jester entertaining a few people at the ball. When the Enchantress arrives, a lot of people run out – presumably that’s where Mr. Potts and Mrs. Cogsworth escape and why they’re not included in the spell – and the jester leaves with them as well. At the end, the Pottses are reunited, the Cogsworths are reunited, and then Lefou recognizes his old beau, Chapeau the violinist/coat rack, and joins the finale back in his jester outfit. It makes total sense for Lefou to be “the fool” of course and explains why he falls into the abusive friendship he has with Gaston, since it would parallel the relationship he probably would have had as a jester for the similarly self-centered Prince. This adds two quick two-second shots to the opening scene, one of the masked Lefou juggling or something and one of him fleeing when the Enchantress shows up, and about twenty seconds at the end for the reunion and revelation and, in my opinion, is so much less problematic than writing our first ever LGBT Disney character as an evil sidekick with a forced redemption arc – this way, he had his memory erased, just like everyone else. Just our little idea but I think it could have blended into this world quite smoothly. Alas, here we are.
Moving on! The finale is absolutely gorgeous. The whole ending sequence is my favorite thing about the whole film. The fight scene is fantastic and then from there to the end, everything is so marvelous. We know the objects are going to be okay in the end, but seeing them all finally lose the battle they’ve been fighting and become motionless household objects is… emotional! Then the Prince’s transformation is brilliant, giving the perfect nods to the original film, and each character’s subsequent change back to their human state is perfect (Cadenza’s teeth!), especially when Mrs. Potts and Chip go sliding down the steps. And then when she says, “You smell so good,” oh my gosh. Whoever contributed that line is a genius. I go all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it. Then we have the wonderful and funny reunions and then the final dance sequence, where Emma is beautiful and Dan is looking good in bright sky blue and rococo curls in his hair. Audra McDonald sings flawlessly and we have that beautiful moment between Mrs. Potts and Maurice that made my little shipper heart do a backflip, even if there is a Mr. Potts now. I’m still not sure if I’m on board with the growl, but I adore the line about the beard – apparently it was written for the original film and Paige O'Hara even recorded it! But it interrupted that finale sequence so they never used it. I think it works perfectly here, it’s so cute.
The first time watching, I felt the pacing was so odd in the film, with some abrupt transitions that didn’t quite work. I felt that less so the second time, maybe just because I was expecting it, and sometimes I actually liked the sudden change. I also don’t fully understand the shuffling of scenes at the beginning. The animated film goes (1) “Belle,” (2) Belle and Maurice at home, (3) Maurice leaves for the fair, (4) Maurice arrives in the castle, (5) Gaston proposes, (6) “Belle (Reprise),” (7) Philippe comes back and tells Belle to the castle. The movie rearrange this so almost all of the village scenes happen together, reordering that sequence as 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 4, 7. Because of this we end up going from Maurice’s whole scene in the castle, back to the village for about thirty seconds with Philippe and Belle, then right back to the castle again. This made the whole sequence of events feel rushed even though each moment was given about the same amount of time, or more, as the original film. Additionally, I felt some of the filming choices from a cinematography point of view were weird. There were several times that we were zoomed in on a character, usually Belle or Gaston in the village, and it felt like the shot was kept tight to hide something but then there wasn’t anything to hide… it’s a hard thing to articulate, but I definitely noticed it through both viewings.
The design of this movie is amazing. Breathtaking. Thousands of beautiful costumes and such detail – human Cogsworth’s buttons have the Roman numeral numbers on them! Not to mention the object designs. Lumiere’s candlestick form is clearly inspired by the Broadway production, which was an absolutely brilliant choice. Garderobe’s wardrobe form is A THEATRE, it has box seats and a stage with curtains as her mouth piece! Even the villagers are designed with such care, memorable and reminiscent of the original in many places – the man with the scissors and the guy with the mustache, the Baker is very similar to his animated design… I would have liked to have seen blonde silly girls to contrast them more distinctly with Belle, but they are what they are. The set design, from the village to the absolutely incredible castle, it’s all so, so good. I love the little flowers painted on the doorway to Maurice’s cottage and I loved the magnificent, baroque-meets-gothic design of an extremely unique castle. I know people are up in arms about the yellow dress, I know it’s not perfect, but it doesn’t stick out so horribly in the movie and it moves so beautifully in the ballroom scene. And honestly, I’ve never cared about the yellow dress, the blue dress is the one I’ve always loved and I just think the live action interpretation is glorious. It does not feel like a costume, it feels worn-in, it feels natural, like it’s just Belle’s favorite dress, and I just love it so much.
Speaking of detail, they named the village. And they named it Villeneuve. As in Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the original author of the fairy tale. Come on. That’s fantastic.
Let’s see, some of my other favorite moments that jumped out at me that I wanted to mention… the whole “Gaston” scene in the tavern is awesome, maybe my favorite scene besides the finale sequence. I love that Lefou is going around paying everyone off to boost Gaston’s ego, I love the dance, I love the use of Tom, Dick, and Stanley as cronies throughout the entire movie, I love lifting the young woman and then lifting Lefou, the whole song is fun and funny and exciting and the new lyrics are just amazing - “Then I shoot from behind!” “Is that fair?” “I don’t care!” …That’s exactly what’s going to happen in the final battle. Ugh. So good.
The moment in “Something There” where the Beast moves to Belle’s end of the table, she puts down her spoon, and they both sip their soup out of the bowl… that hit me in a way the animated movie never has before. It’s amazing symbolism. He can’t eat with the spoon, she’s not going to lap it up like an animal, so they find a way they can both eat the same way. They’re meeting each other halfway. That’s some good stuff right there.
OH, and I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned “Be Our Guest!” Come on. They went hard with that. They put on a full Broadway production on the table in front of Belle! The way it just kept growing bigger and bigger was delightful. Plus I love that the grey stuff is designed after Be Our Guest Restaurant’s grey stuff, complete with the silver and grey chocolate caviar beads.
Replacing the animated film’s bookstore, which never really made sense in a town of people who think reading makes someone weird, with a small shelf holding a dozen old and worn books that Belle has read over and over is just such a wonderful touch. I love that Belle’s favorite play is Romeo and Juliet because she’s barely read anything else and I love that the Beast’s reaction is to roll his eyes at her selection. I would have liked to have seen the giving of the library be a little more deliberate and a little less off the cuff, and I definitely missed the “promises you don’t intend to keep” line, but I’m so satisfied with the choice to make the Beast a reader. Having “a very expensive education” totally makes sense, and what else would he have had to do with all that time? They each develop the other’s literary taste! What’s better in a relationship than that?
The new songs are lovely as well. “How Can A Moment Last Forever?” is so much better than “No Matter What,” I wish it could logically fit into the musical instead because it’s really, really good. “Days in the Sun” is so sweet, it’s nice to have those moments with the young prince and each of the objects and even Belle, and honestly I can’t stand “Human Again” so I’m good with this one, plus the lyrical nod to “A Change in Me” is nice. But “Evermore” is clearly stealing the show as far as the new songs are concerned. What a great song. I still think they could have done a little tweaking to the lyrics in order to still use “If I Can’t Love Her” but if we’re going to write a new song for the Beast, I’ll take this one. (But can we not digitally lower Dan Stevens’s voice next time? It sounds like a computer singing at some points.) I also loved all of the new/old lyrics that were incorporated into the songs we were familiar with. They felt fresh without being forced. The new “Gaston” lyrics are definitely my favorite, but the new lyrics that Mrs. Potts sings in the finale are touching. Plus, using the Broadway songs as underscoring was really nice, especially “Home.”
I’m just so delighted with this movie. Everything from the original is there but now there’s more. The stove is there. The coat rack is there. The footstool is there. They just paid so much attention to detail and did this movie the justice it deserved. I’m already prepared to call this my favorite movie. Easily. By miles. It’s beautiful and just absolutely everything I was hoping it would be.