Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad
Synopsis: An adaptation of the fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.
Genre: Family, Fantasy, Musical
MPAA Rating: PG (for some action violence, peril and frightening images)
Release Date: March 17, 2017
There are many adages that have been written revolving around the idea of not judging someone based on their looks. The saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" even references the idea of not looking at the physical, outward appearance of something or someone until you actually read or get to know them yourself.
Perhaps no work of art exemplifies this idea better than the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast", which was originally written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740. The fairy tale has been the subject of several film adaptations, the first being a French film in 1946 titled La Belle et la Bete (Jean Cocteau). It wasn't until 1991, however, that the fairy tale gained widespread attention when Disney produced an animated feature Beauty and the Beast (Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale). In a recent (and future) trend of remaking their older animated films into live action films (such as Cinderella in 2015 and the upcoming live action The Lion King) Disney produced this live action feature of the famous tale.
The film stars Harry Potter icon Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. The fan base of the 1991 animated film seemed to be split on the casting of the film, especially concerning the role of Belle and Emma Watson's singing capability, as this is the actresses’ first singing role. However, after some early footage of Watson performing one of the film's musical numbers was released online, the majority of fans seemed to have a positive response and agree with the casting decision. The early footage holds up in the film, as Watson gracefully performs the songs in (at least my opinion) a well-tuned voice that feels authentic with the character of Belle. All in all, Watson gives a solid performance, fully embodying the independent, curious, smart, loving, and compassionate character that audiences loved from Disney's animated film.
The Beast also receives a significant amount of attention in the film opposite Belle. Specifically, we learn a bit about his backstory in how he became the beast and why he acts and lives secluded in the castle. The character is given enough depth for audiences to care for and sympathize with him, especially those who have been judged by their appearances and/or behavior at some point in their lives. The only qualm I had with the Beast was from a technical standpoint in his appearance, as the CGI was painfully evident in some of the close-up shots. Director Bill Condon used little practical effects in the film as a whole, and practicals would have certainly aided in the Beast's appearance for the close-up shots.
The CGI in other parts of the film was also disappointing, such as the visuals on the wolves, who looked about the same (if not worse) than the wolves in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005), which was released over a decade ago. CGI was also used for extending the interior look of the mansion, with the practicals used for closer shots. This is normally how computer generated imagery should be utilized--to extend the sets and be used in the background to make the environment look and feel larger than they really are in reality. But the CGI still remains obvious in too many shots, even when it's used only in the background. On the other side, the most visually appealing shots come from the exterior of the castle at night, when the snow is lightly falling and the castle has a winter Narnia-ish feel and atmosphere.
Besides the characters of Belle and the Beast, the film features the return of the lovable, vibrant characters from the objects around the mansion, including Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen). These characters supply humor and wisdom to Watson's Belle as well as audiences, and help facilitate the growth of the relationship between Belle and the Beast.
Ultimately, Disney's live action remake of Beauty and the Beast justifies its existence by containing well-written characters, solid performances (especially from Watson), and a timely message that deserves being refreshed in people's minds. The film's visuals are its weakest point, but most audiences will look past that and be reminded of the film's characters and poignant theme of developing a relationship with someone before judging physical appearances---an all too pivotal message that needs stated in today's image-centric society.