Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Directed by Bill Condon.
There are some stories, usually love stories, that transcend good or bad and become as much as part of pop culture as anything can be.
Beauty and the Beast portrays a magical twist on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. After a narcissistic prince denies shelter to a disguised enchantress, she casts a spell on him, turning him into a beast; she turns his servants into living household objects; she erases all memory of him and his castle from the local townspeople. He's left with an enchanted mirror and a rose which, when wilted, will signify that his transformation is irreversible. The only way to reverse the spell is for him to learn to care for and love someone beyond himself and to earn their love in return. Many years later in a nearby town, Belle, book-lover, lives happily with her artist/inventor father and is eager to learn, grow, and even adventure. A narcissistic army captain named Gaston is eagerly seeking Belle's hand, as a trophy wife, when an unfortunate series of events (and turn of fate) lands Belle as the Beast's prisoner.
First and foremost, the music. It's amazing and, at the same time, sometimes off-beat. Yes, Beauty and the Beast maintains it's setting beautifully, holding onto the time period with aplomb; the lyrics and music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are retained, accompanied by new music. The result is an operatic affair, grand and verbose. Yet, while the music swells with every number, the melodies often feel out of place, not quite reflective of what's going on and heightening the lyrics into overly joyous songs that should really be dark and moody. Many numbers work beautifully, dragging the audience into the song-and-dance as well, such as Gaston's boasts and the beautifully lilting, titular song, but many are also slightly off-putting. Despite that, when the right notes hit Beauty and the Beast reaches wonderful, emotional crescendos.
The photography by Tobias Schliessler is an odd mixture of beautifully captured and misunderstood. The CG is breathtaking and nearly a perfect medium meshing everything together. Many shots are framed wonderfully and many aren't. And many long, swooping shots that should be immersive and transverse and stunning and revelatory end up bogged down by poor editing, cut down into quick shots or covered with foreground obstacles. Such simple scenes that should be explanatory or eye candy are made overly complicated and sometimes hard to follow, almost sacrificially. Scenes featuring heavy or primarily CG are the longest and usually the prettiest, with ornate textures and lighting. While sometimes cartoon-like, albeit not in a foolish or overbearing way, the CG usually matches perfectly with the live-action, a feat that's nigh impossible for the amount of interaction that these elements share.
Emma Watson plays Belle gracefully, sharing a degree of chemistry with Dan Steven's CG Beast (moreso than the live-action Dan Stevens) that most other actors couldn't achieve in VR. The only complaints about the acting can be directed towards the frequently forced body language from different characters here and there, and the entirely miscast Luke Evans. True, Evans can act up a storm, but he's not the right fit for Gaston. Besides his smug grin he's not big enough, self-assured enough, or wildly charismatic enough to be believable in the ridiculously alpha male role. Otherwise, the voice acting from Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, et al is superb and emotive, and the comic relief from the aforementioned and especially Josh Gad is perfectly timed and welcome.
The story itself is nothing short of touching. The inconsistent characters are drowned out by the surreal nature of the events in which they find themselves. The 40 extra minutes of screen time over the 1991 original lets events slow down and build up. That extra really lets the film breathe and feel organic. While the use of an extensive library as the first in a series of emotive connections between Belle and the Beast seems a little trivial in the face of their situation, the slower pace lets their relationship build ever more-so through a visible compassion, sympathy, and empathy that Watson emotes candidly in relation to Stevens' voice acting. The result is a connection from the audience to the characters that brings the animated film very much back to life.
Condon's live action honors the animation and the fairy tale in splendid fashion. The ornate vision dashes contemporary notions of realistic grittiness into the past, in favor of production values that, while realistic, prove to be very much theatrical and elegant in nature. Disney proves that an accurate depiction of a classic story still has a place in a contemporary Hollywood where fairy tales can't hold a candle to blockbuster franchises. Yes, the movie has it's fair share of cinematic faults, but Beauty and the Beast makes me feel young again in a way that only a well-told fairy tale can.
Tl;dr: I had doubts about Hermione Granger falling in love with the Beast, but damn did she prove me wrong. Her and Stevens have created a touching romance. Even the music gives me shudders of youthful vigor. While it isn't cinematically perfect, Beauty and the Beast has very much lived up to the nostalgia it seeks to breathe life into.
- Acting – 16 / 20
- Story – 15 / 20
- Cinematography – 11 / 20
- Soundtrack – 6 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 10 / 10
- Fantasy/Romance – 7 / 10
- Other – 5 / 10