by Stephen Chbosky (screenplay) & Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay)
Walt Disney Pictures
I promised you all that we would give you our thoughts on the new live-action Beauty and the Beast, and here are the spoilery thoughts of me and Elyse.
Elyse and I? Both of us.
The top part here is pretty spoiler-free, and then we get into the details, but we’ll mark when that starts.
Elyse: So I loved it. LOVED IT. Would watch again a thousand times. I know intellectually it was not perfect and there are things that made me go “wha?” but on an emotional level, it hit me just right. I was 9 when the first movie came out and I fell in love with it and watched it so much on VHS that I’m pretty sure my mom hates that movie now. So I think some of my happiness was definitely nostalgia.
Side note: when Gaston dies at the end my eight year old nice sniffed and said, “Eh. He deserved it.”
RHG: All the nostalgia was great- I have a theory that one of the things that’s driving all the nostalgia from things from the 90s isn’t, “Oh it’s the era before social media and we all miss that time” but that it was the era right before 9/11.
Similar to how the Edwardian Era looks so shiny and lovely because it’s in contrast to the horror that was WWI came right after it, the 90s is this candy colored age that looks so innocent and carefree from this perspective. So we go back to those things because it reminds us that life wasn’t always this scary place.
….that got deep.
ANYWAY, I was grinning madly through “Belle.” All the supporting cast was fantastic (Luke Evans, please don’t be a dick in real life or if you are just be quiet and don’t ever talk because I really really like watching you do things).
Production values: top notch, but we’ll get to the costumes because I HAVE SOME THOUGHTS.
Your niece is already a wise woman.
Ok. If you’re trying to avoid spoilers stop reading now, k?
HERE WE GO!
Elyse: This movie tried to fix some things that were confusing or problematic in the animated film. Like the prince is much older when he’s cursed–and he’s not just a snotty kid who refuses to let an old lady in. He also over taxes his people, cares only about material possessions, etc.
Also the enchantress makes it so that everyone forgets the prince and the castle exist which explains how everyone forgot they had a monarchy ten years ago.
It also tried to answer the question, “Okay but why are the servants cursed? They didn’t do anything” but the justification is pretty weak.
RHG: I did appreciate that. The question of, “Wait, so… how old is the prince? Why are you losing your shit at an 11 year old kid? Yeah, they’re monsters at that age, but this seems excessive” has bothered me for like 26 (…oh shit) years.
ALSO ALSO ALSO I really liked the answer to the, “What the hell time of year is it? It’s sunny, it’s snowing, it’s sunny and warm again, WHEN IS IT.”
It’s June, and it’s Magic Snow. Boom. Done. (This question bothered my mom. It did not bother me.)
I mean, we are in pre-revolutionary France (so… like… first, Gaston, what war were you in? WHAT WAR? I’m confused) so we don’t have a lot of time before The Prince and Belle are gonna have to carve off their bit of France to be an independent Luxembourg or something or they’re gonna lose their heads!
I loved the production values. The sets and set dressing is FANTASTIC. The Beast’s Castle is INCREDIBLE.
Elyse: There were other, subtle adjustments that added to the story too.
For one, Belle straight up rejects Gaston. No dissembling. “Can I come to dinner?” “No.” “Oh, so you’re busy tonight?” “No.”
Also there’s a scene where Belle’s in the west wing and she sees the Beast’s bed, which is kind of a nest of straw and cloth and animal bones. It’s a really fast glimpse but it confirms that as the curse goes on he’s becoming more and more an animal and less of a man.
There’s even a nod to the whole xenophilia aspect the story. Belle asks the prince (jokingly) if he’s ever considered growing a beard and he growls at her.
I actually really liked Dan Stevens in this. I know a lot of people have not forgiven him for Downton but I think he did a great job. And I felt bad about his stupid temple curls at the end scene.
RHG: By “not a lot of people” you mean me. I have not forgiven him.
He did do a good job. I didn’t realize he could sing, and, TO BE HONEST, in the grand tradition of the Disney BatB, the Beast is kinda hotter than the Prince. He is a good actor, and handled the emotional journey well: “Some of them are in Greek!”
I thought his big solo number, “Evermore” was in the wrong key for the moment. Belle has left and he sings about how he’ll always remember, and it’s a big, belting number and not sad, like that moment is.
Temple curls do no one any favors. No one.
What did you think of the new songs?
Elyse: He did do the singing and there a couple interviews where he shows how he modulated his voice. They added a bit of a growl over it but honestly it’s almost all him. He also had to walk around on ten inch stilts and in a giant foam suit.
I think “Evermore” was okay. I think they did it so we got a little more time in the Beast’s head. The version of “Beauty and the Beast” with Ariana Grande and John Legend is not Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, and that makes me sad.
Actually I was surprised most by Luke Evans’ singing voice. I think they really improved the Gaston song and the mob song. There was some nuance that wasn’t there in the original. They also made Gaston way more of a bastard.
RHG: LUKE EVANS YAS. He was PERFECT. Perfect in all the ways. I love him so much. I GOT YOUR TOXIC MASCULINITY RIGHT HERE.
(I also realized that the “Gaston” scene in the original gave me a very unrealistic idea of what people do in bars, and I’ve been profoundly disappointed my entire adult life.)
And as much as I like Josh Gad, and as much as I love LeFou (“And it’s spelled G A S…T…maybe there’s another T…I just realized I’m illiterate and never had to spell this before…”)
The producers went on in some of the publicity about “we have a gay subplot!” and some theater owners were like, “We ain’t gonna show this movie!”
And it was… exactly the same plot you’d expect and nothing new. LeFou is gay and attracted to Gaston, and Gaston mostly ignores it. This isn’t groundbreaking. This isn’t progressive. It’s overdone, and disappointing. We’ve seen this plot before; it’s only slightly more overt this time.
Elyse: Yeah, there wasn’t any there there. At first I was like, “Oh, great, they are going to make the buffoon-ish sidekick comically gay and attracted to Gaston,” but LeFou actually gets a really good arc. He realizes what a shit bag Gaston is. He does the right thing even when it hurts him.
And hey! There were black people in pre-revolutionary France! Who knew! There was at least more diversity than in the 2015 remake of Cinderella.
Do you want to talk about the costumes? Ha! I know you do. A lot of people didn’t like this version of Belle’s dress. Thoughts?
RHG: Imagine my heavy sigh.
Let me get to the diversity though- yes, Cinderella had some background diversity and at least one speaking role. This had more. But (and you knew there was a but) I would have swapped out Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Emma Watson. Mbatha-Raw has a stronger singing voice and more emotional range and Watson just doesn’t have much there-there.
AS FOR THE COSTUMES.
Clearly, they were capable of making the Pre-Rev costumes – the saque-back gowns that the Court wore were fantastic. Most of Stevens’ costumes were great.
EVERYTHING BELLE WORE THOUGH. EVERYTHING. WHY. Her skirts, even in her village girl clothes, were straight up skimpy. Too short, not full enough, and definitely not full enough to tuck the hem up and SHOW YOUR (out of period) BLOOMERS WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT.
More skirt! JUST MORE.
(That said, I will give credit where credit is due and the pouch she was wearing where she slipped the bread in after she bought it? That is an actual thing, it’s called a wallet.)
BUT THAT YELLOW DRESS THOUGH. WHY. It’s…. Everything about it was WRONG. The silhouette was mid-19th century. It was yellow, sure, but it wasn’t even a decent interpretation of the animated dress. I HATED IT. You know they have costumers in the Disney stable that can do amazing gowns. SOMEONE THEM WERE WORKING ON THIS MOVIE. So why that? WHY.
Also the dress Belle wore for the final ball was…well, it looked like it was made from a couch.
Elyse: I thought it was weird that everything else was so clearly set in a certain time period, but they departed from that with Belle. Like Dan Stevens wore hose and high heels and FUCKING TEMPLE CURLS. Belle’s costume should have been more historically accurate if I have to see Dan Stevens with temple curls. I think he might have had a French braid, too. I don’t know.
I have to say, and I’m super biased because of Legion, that Stevens can be incredibly charismatic and I wanted a little more time at the end where they were just happy together.
I love Emma Watson, but I agree that there are a lot better Belles. Emma didn’t have the vocal range for the songs she had to sing. Audra McDonald would have been a better choice, rather than casting her as the wardrobe.
RHG: Audra was on Broadway in Shuffle Along (or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed) while they were doing principal photography. I liked that they were able to get her at all, given her busy schedule! And she was clearly enjoying her voice work.
I was impressed with everyone they got to be the servants- Ewan McGregor! Ian McKellan! Emma Thompson! STANLEY TUCCI! And KEVIN FREAKING KLINE as Belle’s dad! The casting director has done outstanding work.
The thing that had me confused was the Enchantress is still hanging around… why? To see how this story she set into motion played out? There could have been a moment or two to put a button on that, but she’s just wandering around and living UNDER A TREE and begging in the street for kicks? THIS IS A VERY ODD WAY TO SPEND YOUR POWER.
But also why was Belle wearing a couch?
I did like the trip to Paris and answering the question of, “What happened to these people’s parents? Why does Belle have no mom? Where’s the Beast’s parents?” (WHAT WAR WERE YOU IN, GASTON?)
What was with that dress. Why.
Elyse: The inclusion of more of a backstory for Belle was really great. It also helped develop the romance between Belle and the Beast. They didn’t fall in love immediately after a random snowball fight. The timeline was still compressed, but it gave it a little depth.
Belle also knows the Beast has been cursed in this version and talks about helping him break that curse. She doesn’t know what that entails or who he was, but there were some substantial hints about his expensive education and time spent in Paris. AND HE LIVES IN A GODDAM CASTLE. ALL SIGNS POINT TO ROYALTY. She’s not stupid. So it did bug me a little when she talked about helping everyone and Mrs Potts was like “Don’t worry about it, dear” and Belle went, “Okay then.”
Also, OBVIOUSLY when women have substantial power (the enchantress) they can only use it to help a man along his own heroic journey. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, RHG?
RHG: I’m just saying, she could have at least magicked up some walls.
So, as I said, there were things I loved (set design, supporting performances, some of the additions of logic) and things I didn’t like (Emma Watson, the costumes for Belle), and things I found weird and confusing (The Enchantress). Which I think, which since the performance of Belle is such an integral part of the whole, brings me to a B, B-.
Elyse: I gotta go A-. The only thing that bugged me enough to pull me out of the movie was Watson’s singing, to be honest. And even though it wasn’t perfect it was almost exactly what I wanted. So what do you think? B+ average?
RHG: I’ll go with that. But I’ll also link to some amazing cosplays of Belle’s animated gown and we can mourn what could have been (no, I’m never gonna forgive that, and I can hold a grudge for EVER) (Just ask Dan Stevens).
Beauty and the Beast is in theaters now. You can find tickets (US) at Fandango and Moviefone.