The New Beauty and the Beast is No Classic
If you want to take your children to the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast or are just a hopeless romantic who enjoys tales of Stockholm Syndrome, the newest iteration is worth the money, but is in no way a classic. The list of problems with the movie is relatively short, but its failures are too prominent to overlook. However, before getting to why it falls short of the cliched Disney classic mark, first a point on the biggest “controversy” surrounding the movie. For those of you that do not know, it is 2017. Crazy right? Well, director Bill Condon created a major firestorm when he admitted there is a definite “gay moment” involving LeFou in the movie. After watching the movie, it is clear this is much ado about LeFou for nothing.
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If you have a problem with “the moment,” you have more internal issues than can be managed reading a movie review. Josh Gad plays a great LeFou and Bill Condon does a masterful job with the supporting characters story arc (something that cannot be said about some of the primary characters in the movie). At the beginning of the film, LeFou is your standard bad guy Disney sidekick and you can take him or leave him. But in every scene involving he and Gaston (played by a noticeably average Luke Evans), LeFou is the more engaging character, which is in stark contrast to the cartoon version (I actually prefer Gad’s “Gaston” song to the cartoon’s). Where Condon shines is how he develops LeFou throughout the movie, transforming him from the basic sidekick to a puzzled bystander and finally into a character worth cheering.
That last part is the important issue and why cheering for LeFou, a gay character, is so pivotal. They push the theme a little bit too much at times, but “gay LeFou” still works within the confines of the story and the character. Where it hits home is the end of the movie when only a bigot could possibly cheer against him. Whatever your thoughts are when it comes to the current climate of 2017, Bill Condon boxes you into a corner and makes you cheer for the first canonically gay Disney character. It is a masterful job by a director who has a definite agenda, but one that works within the confines of the movie. He makes you root for and exult when LeFou goes from heel to face (to steal a wrestling term). Now, if we can get to a point where 400 words are not necessary to discuss a gay character and get to why this movie falls short as a classic.
When Your Big Guy Is Not Big, That is a Problem
Luke Evans plays Gaston. Gaston is supposed to be this domineering presence. Not just a jerk, but a big ol’ jerk. Luke Evans can sing a decent bit (nothing show-stopping at all), but he is just six foot tall. Gaston HAS to be bigger than that. Maybe this was part of the new age Disney where the bad guy is more Pretty Boy than Bully Man, but Gaston sucks in this movie. The problem with Gaston being so small is his character makes no sense. In his title song (“Gaston”) there are multiple characters the same size or even bigger than Gaston. LeFou looks comparable to Gaston in the live-action whereas in the cartoon LeFou is literally half the size. None of the lines in the song work either, “As a specimen I’m intimidating/as you see I’ve got biceps to spare.” Ummmm, no…. no you are not and no you do not. Gaston as this overbearing powerful bad guy simply falls short. Gaston is not your big classic bad guy. He is just a drunk frat guy (put a golf club in his hand, make him wear pastels and turn up his collar and you have 2017 Gaston).
The Songs Are Average
Quick caveat. It may have been the theater, but most of the lyrics were almost indecipherable. During the larger chorus number songs, the instruments drowned out the lyrics. In “Gaston” it was tough to make out some of the lyric changes and during “Be Our Guest,” it was close to unintelligible. I had to go back home and immediately bring up the songs on YouTube to make sure my memory was not playing tricks. Happy to say the originals were simply much better than the live-action. It should be no surprise that covers/remakes do not come close to the originals, but it is just distracting if you have the memory of the classic in your mind. That is the problem with remakes though; you will always try to compare the two and musically, it does not hold a candle (or candelabra) to the first one. For all of its musical faults though, the live-action does surpass the original in one way.
The Acting is Pretty Good
Despite Luke Evans failing miserably as Gaston, the rest of the cast is pretty solid. I am not a fan of Emma Watson (I hate Harry Potter), but while she was fairly average in her songs her acting in the film was believable, which is all that can be asked. Disney beat the “she is fearless” and “a woman reading? how odd!” (read: Feminist) theme a bit much, but after almost a century of movies and “Damsel in Distress” themes it is a good change of pace. Kevin Cline is fantastic as Maurice, Belle’s father. The backstory involving the mom is one of the more moving parts of the film (and erases memories of an earlier scene where Watson’s acting is putrid and Kline’s is not exactly Oscar worthy).
Dan Stevens plays a surprisingly well-rounded Beast/Prince. If you have seen his work as “David Haller” in FX’s “Legion,” you should not be surprised he can handle a decidedly tricky character. Maybe this is the viewpoint of an almost 30 year old, but Watson and Stevens do a better job of handling the romantic aspect and subtle flirting between Beast and Belle than in the original. It is more of an adult film than the cartoon and is better acted so there are a couple more poignant moments in this iteration than in the previous and that credit goes to Watson, Stevens, Kline and Gad. Also, the magical reveal at the end will leave you going “I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT WAS THE ACTOR,” if you were unable to figure out the voices prior to the denouement.
While the movie does have its flaws (the songs in a musical being below average is a pivotal one), it overall is worth the money. It is a refreshing take on a old classic and while it is definitely a pure money grab, it is one that will not make you angry for dishing out some coin for a stub and some popcorn. The first half of the film drags (the run-time is an outrageous two hours and nine minutes compared to the original one hour and 24 minutes), but the second half takes off like a startled colt. It will not go down as a classic by any stretch of the imagination and is more adult than the original. Yes it has a gay character in it, but who cares? It is 2017. LeFou being gay has no impact on the movie and actually helps prop up Pretty Boy Gaston, which is probably the worst aspect of the film other than the actual songs. If you want a children’s classic this movie is not it. But luckily for you, they already made that in 1991.