Monday, October 9, 2017

Disney's 2017 BATB


Guess what I finally saw...?

So now the live action Beauty and the Beast is on Netflix (any major Disney film is usually available on Netflix within a few months). I know this movie was reviewed a ton back in March and I'm not sure if I'll be adding anything new. And I can never be unbiased about an adaptation of the Disney classic...it was my favorite movie as a child, I could probably quote the whole movie mostly accurately (but I've never tried to go from start to finish). It was my comfort movie-the one I watched when I was sick and always made me feel better. So really nothing could surpass the classic for this nostalgic girl...

But in the words of a friend, "It made me want to watch the cartoon." (To be fair, most of my friends really liked the new film.) Not that it was all bad, in fact I liked several of the changes they made. Biggest improvement by far was LeFou, who went from being the stock dumb sidekick (who wasn't even that funny, truthfully) to what I found to be the most likable character, funny and with more depth. And honestly...I don't know that I would have picked up the fact that he was gay on the initial viewing if everyone didn't make such a huge deal about it, it was so subtle. We (my husband Tony and I) also liked Maurice better, more realistic than the comically short, bumbling old man.

But the rest of the characters just...weren't that likable to me. One of the great tragedies of the film was how even excellent actors seemed to make the classic characters fall flat. Normally I would say Emma Thompson can do no wrong...but was it just me or was her accent really weird? And Ian McKellen's Cogsworth grew on me a little towards the end but I still wasn't crazy about him. He was much darker...the former Cogsworth was delighted to take Belle on a tour of the castle her first night there, complete with cheesy puns. This one wanted her to stay in her cell the first night in the castle. And I won't even get started on Lumiere...

But in order to make a BATB story work, you need a great Belle, a great Beast, and good chemistry. Normally I don't mind Emma Watson as an actress, but from her artificial sounding singing voice to her acting coming across as very forced in general, this was her most distracting performance I've seen since the first Harry Potter movies.

Then there's the writing too...the scenes with the villagers just seemed so random. Why are they so bitter about women reading? I'm no expert in French history circa the 18th century, but wasn't that not really a time period in which reading women were persecuted? Why did their dumping of her laundry on the street have barely any reaction from Belle? And if they're so unreasonable about reading, why were they all of a sudden much more civil when Maurice claimed Gaston, their hero, tried to kill him?

And speaking of Gaston-he was initally not really that bad of a character. A little shallow maybe, but from what we saw, he hardly seemed to warrant Belle's rude rejections. The cartoon Belle's "I'm sorry Gaston, but...I just don't deserve you!" was so clever yet a polite turn down, because that Gaston would never in a million years imagine she meant she was too good for him. And no matter how arrogant someone is, it still hurts to be turned down. Their interactions just reflected poorly on Belle's character and not Gaston's. Later, his cruel murderous actions seemed random and not as believable.

I think Dan Stevens did fine as the Beast...it was so hard to tell underneath all the unnecessary CGI!

There were some subtle changes I enjoyed, like when Beast asks if Belle is happy and instead of "Yes...(moodily stares off into distance)" she replies, "Can anyone be happy if they're not free?". And then props to this Beast for then being the one to realize she might miss her father. And that scene, borrowed from the musical, where the objects are one by one turning into inanimate objects...so haunting! It was nice that the happy ending included a reuniting of villagers with the cast from the castle. Oh, and the rose request from the classic fairy tale! And the super subtle nod to McKinley (I think) with the Beast meeting Philippe. And...

There are so many little things I could mention but I feel like that was part of the problem. So many things here and there introduced but not fully developed. Plot holes from the original film were filled in but I feel like it left just as many questions. I think I'm beginning to realize that fairy tales, especially BATB, are really not well suited for film. They almost need the length and depth of a novel or tv show to fully get into backstories, side characters, and really develop such an unlikely romance realistically and steer away from Stockholm Syndrome. Or, it needs the beautiful simplicity of the bare bones classic fairy tale or children's picture book. (Aside from making me want to rewatch the cartoon, I also felt the urge to reread Robin McKinley's Beauty and my favorite picture book by Max Eilenberg and Angela Barrett).

Curious to see what you all thought!

5 comments:

  1. I agree. I actually think that modern audiences can't connect with many fairy tales because they belong firmly to a world where people married primarily for financial reasons- and they were expected to marry. So the fantasy element in many fairy tales was that the required marriage ended up being a love match after all.
    I also suspect that in another 20 years Jane Austen's books will have to grapple with the same problem. The heroines frequent obsession with money and it's necessity for marriage is already hard to reconcile. Elizabeth's attraction to the estate of Pemberley can't be ignored.
    * there's also the problem where Beauty and the Beast belongs to a time when abusing your host's hospitality resulted in death. Beauty's father totally stole from his generous host and was going to rightly (according to the time) pay with his life. This is the motivator for Beauty to exchange her life for her father's. Everyone is expecting that she's going to her death. That she doesn't is a surprise to everyone. And when she finally asks to leave to visit her father, the Beast lets her leave, begging her to return in week. The whole time the enchanted castle and the Beast were telling her that she was the "queen and mistress" there, and it turned out to be true. But, modern tellings often try to turn the story into a "battle of the wits" love affair. It's not. It's two desperate people who find what they need in the other. And that's just not "sexy" or aspirational to us anymore.

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    1. lol. SO MANY TYPOS. Sorry, I don't see an edit button.

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    2. Hi Jordan! Thanks for your comment! Yeah I don't think you can edit comments on blogger...

      I agree, I think a lot of the meaning of fairy tales is lost when we don't understand the culture it came from. Especially how the tale was really about female empowerment and being given the choice and ability to say "no" to a man and not just given away in marraige. Although I've never heard that about it being common to expect death for being rude to a host...where did you read/hear that? I'm sure, though, that hospitality was viewed much differently than today, and the stealing of the rose would have been seen as a much worse mistake by the readers at the time. In the Villeneuve, there's a detailed explanation as to the terms of the curse, and how Beauty had to expect to be going to her death in order to break it, and that's why the Beast was instructed to threaten the merchant's life, and he was just following the orders of the good fairy and didn't really intend to kill him. In that regard the Disney's explanation kind of made sense, how the Beast was bitter that one rose took his life from him so that's why he would punish Maurice for stealing.

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  2. I agree on pretty much all of those points! I went to see it in theaters with my mom and we both really liked Belle and Maurice's relationship. We also thought Gaston went from being fairly polite/understated in the beginning to being cartoonishly villainous. It had the makings of a good movie and we mostly enjoyed it, but it just didn't measure up to the cartoon.

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  3. It's been kind of a BATB yearn for me. First I saw the live-action Disney remake, than I saw a production of the stage musical, then I happened to catch most of the Disney cartoon on TV one night (which I had seen, and loved, way back when it first came out). And I agree; the live-action movie made me homesick for the cartoon!

    But here's what struck me about the story this time around: the way all the servants/household objects pounce on Belle the minute she arrives, and orchestrate her relationship with Beast — as a way to free themselves (and Beast, of course) from the witch's curse.

    Beast is reluctant, at first (Oh, this will never work . . . ), and Belle resists because she's his prisoner, but eventually, they do come to care for each other. But the servants/objects are always pushing them together. Belle's feelings are more genuine, as she comes to evaluate Beast on his own terms, but it seems like Beast's emotions are never completely divorced from the fact that he NEEDS to win the affection of a woman to break the curse.

    I guess I was disappointed because I wanted more breathing room for Belle (Beauty) and Beast to genuinely fall in love with each other, not just become pawns in a plot to break the curse. And, of course, the disappointment of Beast turning back into the "handsome prince" at the end — I never liked that part! I guess that's why I wrote my own BatB novel!

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