Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast - A Disney Nerd's Geekout

Holy crap.

This will be one of only two sentences I will utter throughout Disney's 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast remake.

Like most theater goers you will probably think that this is 2 too many.  Here's the thing though.  Typically I like to analyze, critique, and comment on a movie as its playing out.  Much to the dismay and chagrin of my darling dearest wife.

I know.  I know.  I'm terrible.

But I assure you I do this quietly so as not to upset the other movie goers...only my wife.  And I don't text others while watching the movie.  Or call others on the phone.  Or take selfies while the movie is going on.  Seriously that really happened.  And whats the matter with people not understanding arm rest etiquette!?  And as a father of 3 I understand if you want to bring your young child/infant to the theater.  But if he/she starts wailing can you PLEASE take the baby out!

Fine fine.  I may be attempting to deflect.  And i'm certainly digressing.

This is all to say that this movie had me completely silent and enthralled throughout while I digested this incredible masterpiece of cinematic history.

Some may say that is a stretch.  In fact this film only has a 70% on rotten tomatoes.

However, while i'm an admitted Disney nut, and i'm willing to admit I have an extreme positive bias towards everything Disney, I do not believe that is a fair score.

And i'm not alone.

86% of non critics gave it a positive score so i'm inclined to believe that professional movie critics are so jaded and devoid of joy they simply do not appreciate pure entertainment when it comes their way and instead vie for the pure misery that was Manchester by the Sea, Fences, Hell or High Water, Moonlight and other incredible soul/happiness sucking films that were nominated for an Academy award in 2017.  Seriously.  Nobody actually liked those movies.  And I will not get started on La La Land again.....yet.

I really didn't know what to expect from this film.  I actually didn't love the 1991 original.  I recognized it as a great film, with great visuals and music, but as a child I considered it a girl movie.

And I wasn't exactly wrong.  The original utilized groundbreaking technology for its iconic ballroom scene and received an academy award for both its score and original song.  All of which can be witnessed in this video:

As for being a girl movie.  Well again I was a young boy at the time.  Girls and love were icky.  This is basically a chick flick about a boy and girl falling in love.  Although for some reason that didn't bother me with The Little Mermaid which was my favorite film at that time until Lion King would supplant it.  Meh what did a young Chris know?

The original was created smack dab in the middle of the Disney Renaissance Period where Disney Animation was making a come back after a series of lackluster releases.

And I certainly didn't realize or appreciate the fact that Disney was changing its princesses to become less dependent damsels in distress and more strong female leads.

Now older with 3 daughters I do appreciate it (and have gotten over the icky love factor) and Emma Watson has done a phenomenal job of continuing and even improving on that strong, intelligent, independent female character with Belle.

Watson, as Belle, personifies exactly who I want my daughters to be.  Daring, independent, courageous, intelligent and compassionate.  

There is an amazing quote within the film that I can't seem to find but seems to acknowledge both the casting out of the old view of princesses with the ushering in the new.  It occurred during a scene with Gaston trying to figure out why he liked Belle so much when all the other women of the village were fawning and acting foolish for him and she wasn't.  To which his comedic side kick LeFou replied something to the effect of "because she has dignity?".

I don't plan to wax too much about this film and dissect it for its social/cultural worth.  While aware of a couple of Emma Watson's completely ridiculous non scandals outside of this film, as well as the same sex scene controversy (also an overly inflated non issue) within this film, this blog isn't about that.  This blog will not be attempting to make a political point.  This blog is simply me having a Disney nerd love fest with this movie.  All the controversies simply take away from that.

All this is to say that Emma Watson was phenomenal as Belle.  Not only did she perfectly illustrate a dignified air (as well as the numerous other traits I mentioned), but her singing ability was an unexpected surprise.

Unlike the opposite unexpected surprise in friggin La La land where apparently nobody could sing in a movie billed as a return to the old singing and dancing classic Hollywood films.  I mean really La La land are you kidin----------no Chris.  Settle down Chris.  Nobody wants to hear your 192nd rant on how bad La La Land was.....focus!

Luke Evans did an admirable job of portraying Gaston.  It really isn't his fault.  Gaston, the character, is strong, ruggedly handsome, and exceptionally manly.  Women want him.  Men want to be him.  I love him nearly as much as he loves himself.  This is something that really can only be displayed through the exaggerated cartoony manliness perfected through the Disney animated original.  

At least so I thought until I met the real man himself at Disney in person.  In person you begin to realize that as a specimen he truly is intimidating.

Check out this where he in is foolishly challenged to a push-up contest and then proceeds to charm all the women of his village.  Those poor poor poor broken hearts.  Oh and forget that last clip.  Needn't bother with it.  Clearly cheated.  No man has defeated Gaston at an arm wrestling contest.  Let alone a girl!

And while your meeting with Gaston be sure to take a pit stop at the pub and imbibe in LeFou's brew.  This super delicious, maybe overly sweet, apple marshmallow frozen slushy!  Next up on your Disney World touring plan is....oh wait wrong blog.  Alright back to the movie review....

I did start out concerned that Luke Evans wouldn't live up to Gastons image.  I just wasn't sure I would be awed and inspired by him.  He was certainly slick and quick enough, but without the cartoony nature of the original I wasn't sure his neck would be thick enough nor manly enough.

As the film progressed, however, he increasingly left my concerns behind and by the end I was assured that no on hits like Gaston or matches wits like Gaston.  Furthermore by the time he challenged the Beast he completely nailed the role both in character, dance, as well as in song (probably due to his career start in theater).  Who would have thought.  Hiring actors in a musical that come from a theatrical background?  I've been led to believe by another film that this is actually quite the monumental task....

I'm having a really hard time in trying to find a good picture of Dan Stevens as the Beast.  I think I know why.

Both the CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and live actioned costumed Beast looked kind of terrible.

It was extremely clear to me every time they switched to a CGI beast.  At times it was as jarring as in the early days of mainstream CGI as seen in the 2002 Spiderman film.

The costume version wasn't much better.

Look at those pictures.  His facial expressions are almost non existent and what you can't see is that his movements are incredibly stiff and awkward looking.

Combine that with the nature of the beasts character as gruff and impersonal and i'm left with not much to say about Dan Stevens performance.  Maybe he was acting his butt off underneath all those layers?

Regardless he really comes into his own near the end of the film when he regales the audience with an all new musical number.  It is at this point that you realize that he too has been classically trained and started out in theater which is probably something that a live action musical film ought to be looking for in its cast....

While Belle, The Beast, and Gaston are the main characters of this film, they were surrounded by an amazing cast of characters voiced by very familiar actors.

Do you recognize the actor in the picture above?
I not only didn't recognize him when he took human form but his voice acting didn't give him away either.

What do you mean what do I mean by human form?
Wait you didn't know that he was turned into a candelabra?
Yes I know I didn't explain the plot at the beginning of this movie review.  Its the friggin Beauty and the Beast.  ITS A TALE AS OLD AS TIME!

*Loud Sigh*
Fine.  I suppose I should explain the premise of this film so that this make sense to those of you monsters who have not committed themselves to seeing every Disney Animation movie as I have.

The premise is fairly simple.
There was a prince who was cruel and vain and refused to help a decrepit hag who arrived at his castle.  As punishment the hag placed a curse on him turning him into a beast and his servants living in the castle into various inanimate objects.  The curse would only be lifted if the beast would be able to find someone to fall in love with him.  He was also given a rose and if the last rose petal fell then he and the castles inhabitants would be cursed forever.

Got it?

Where was I....

I fell in love with Ewan McGregor when he performed in 2001's Moulin Rouge.  That movie was all kinds of crazy and he seems to have taken a bit of that craziness and created a super over the top version of Lumiere, the Beasts incredibly upbeat and charming bouteiller (butler).

So crazy that he seemingly combined his Scottish accent with both French and English that resulted in something all together its own.

It was so terrible that I actually thoroughly enjoyed it.  Kind of like Dick Van Dykes terrible accent in Marry Poppins.  In a serious film this would be a detriment.  But in both films in question they add to the magical whimsical and fun spirited nature of the films.

Oh and he can actually sing.
Not only did he receive a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in, the previously mentioned, Moulin Rouge but he also starred in the theatre production of Guys and Dolls for two years.

It's almost as if, for this movie at least, the casting director actually wanted to make sure their cast could actually sing when performing in a musical performance and didn't want to rely solely on Ryan Goslings and Emma Stones good looks.  I mean sure they have good chemistry but the film was supposed to be a throwback to old Hollywood musicals!  Come on!

I I do.

Alright i'm going far too long form in this blog (no I will not edit out all my tangents!) so i'm going to quickly go over a few of the other characters in this film who are really worth mentioning.

Josh Gad did a phenomenal job as Gastons bumbling sidekick.  Even if his role was a bit of a twist off of the original.

The twist being that he is Gay.  Really not a huge difference from the original.

Instead of being a devoted lackey in awe of Gastons awesomeness, as we all should be, he seemed to be in love with him for other reasons as well.

Not a big deal.  I preferred the original take but the difference is so minor that it isn't worth dwelling on.  And despite the typical media over-blowing the coverage of a boycott over the slight changes in this film the vast majority of people didn't mind at all.

Furthermore Gad actually has a background in theater with his breakout role in Book of Mormon (went to New York just to see this amazing play) and it really shines through when he rallies Gastons spirits in song.

Kevin Kline as Maurice (Belles father) has been given a more fleshed out character in this version.  There is more backstory given to his character that takes the unnecessarily dark path that most of the Disney princes parents have.  Seriously does Disney just hate parents?  Why must we all face such gruesome fates?

It's interesting how movies can affect you at different stages of your life.  Maurice has some really touching scenes that  affect me as both a father and husband.  Many feels.  So many feels.

Emma Thompson played Mrs. Potts (the Beast's head housekeeper) and did her best Angela Lansbury impression.  A noble attempt to be sure.  Had Mrs. Lansbury's version not existed i'd have said Emma Thompson did a phenomenal job.  But it is hard to live up to the original.  In any case Emma Thompson did as good a job as anybody could have and i've just realized that i'm really not giving her performance justice.  Angela Lansbury was great.  Emma Thompson was very good.

Now I typically wouldn't keep rattling off all the characters in a film review.  But this film had so many top level actors.

Some of which were completely under utilized such as Stanley Tucci as a piano,  Ian McKellen as a clock (i'm getting very lazy with my descriptions of characters now).  Then there is Audra McDonald, who played the wardrobe.  She is another actor in this film who actually has a theater background and in addition tours as an actual opera singer.

Seriously was La La Land in production at the same time as this film so that Beauty and the Beast simply stole all of the musical talent?

While I would have loved to have seen more of these characters the film already had a run time of 2 hours and 19 minutes so I suppose the movie was long enough as is.

Wow was it really that long.  The time absolutely flew by while watching this film.  I was constantly entertained and amazed with each scene and musical performance getting better and better both with the musical scores as well as the incredible set design.

Actually I should comment on the set.
The Beast's castle is a character all of its own.
Each room is massive with each room more intricate then the next.

I've been to the Beasts castle in Disney World and was blown away by the detail that the imagineers put into sculpting their version of the castle.  To this day it is one of the hardest to come by dining reservations on property and its beauty is no doubt the reason why.

After watching this film however, I couldn't help wishing that they had used the set of this film so that I could explore this massive castle.  It was completely gorgeous.

This is one of the very rare times that I would advocate and recommend the use of 3d.  Overlook the couple of completely unnecessary tacky 3D gags they threw in and experience this films beautiful set design with 3D.

I'm not going to spoil it by posting too many photos because they really should be viewed first hand.

In fact photos really wouldn't do most of the scenes justice.  The Be Our Guest scene in particular was stunning.  Your synapses were just getting overloaded by the visual stimulation.  Man it was great.

So too were the costumes.  Belle not only had her iconic yellow dress but many others that I would love to buy for my girls.

Here's a photo of Belle that most people have already probably seen.  But notice also the ballroom in the background.  Just gorgeous.

And check out this, not as good as the film version, duet that showcases the ballroom.

Some final thoughts.

The original Beauty and the Beast had tons of plot holes and downright problems with the storyline.  Most notable is Belle's extreme form of Stockholm syndrome.

This 2017 version attempts to fix some of these problems and does provide a reasonable explanation as to why Belle would fall in love with her captor.  Much of this is with extended backstory of its characters.

However there is still alot in this films writing that you could pick apart.

But this would go against the spirit of this film.

The reason this film is so much better than all off the 2017 academy award films is not because of it's writing.  It's because this film was fun.

Let's look at some of the 2017 Academy Award best picture nominees.

  • Manchester by the Sea:  We fallow a man who has to live his life after his actions led to his children dying in a fire.
  • Fences: We see an admitably great performance out of Denzel Washington where we watch him struggle as a working class father in the 1950s and take much of his aggression out on his son.
  • Moonlight:  The story of a young black man growing up in a rough neighbourhood in Miami.  If this wasn't enough struggle they threw in him also struggling with his homosexuality.
  • Arrival:  At least this one wasn't depressing but man was the pacing slow, plodding and dare I say boring.
  • Hacksaw Ridge: An apparently realistic view of the horrors of ww2 through the eyes of a pacifist.
  • Hell or High Water: We witness the dying towns of small town America through the eyes of a bankrobber who just wants to provide a better life for his son.
  • Hidden Figures:  Ok actually this one was actually fun.  Good film.  I'd actually recomend this one.  Sure it chronicles the struggles of African Women during a time that both their race and gender wasn't treated well at all.  But it somehow examines it in an upbeat way and hey at least its got a happy ending.

And then you have La La Land.  A return to old Hollywood Musicals.  I've been consistently trashing this film throughout this blog and in life to anyone who will listen (which is no one.  Even my wife only pretends to listen to my inane rantings).  I really don't believe i'm being overly harsh on La La Land.  They really did not dance or sing very well.  The songs, and really the movie on a whole, was very forgettable.

I work in a long term care facility.  I usually have the TV on the Turner Classic Movie channel where they play all of those old films from the 50s.  The residents love all the song and dance numbers and i've grown to like them as well.

I can see why Hollywood looks fondly back on those films.  They were alot of fun.

La La Land wasn't that fun and was kind of a bore.

Beauty and the Beast.  If I had to step outside of my super never disparaging of Disney geekdom i'd have to be honest and say that the dancing was very poor.  The singing was decent to good with some obvious help from a synthesizer.  But most importantly it was alot of fun.

La La Land isn't the return of old Hollywood with a modern twist.  Beauty and the Beast is.

There are many purposes of a film.  One would be to peek inside the life or time of an individual to maybe get a better understanding of that life.  Movies like Moonlight does this masterfully.  It may not be a pleasant experience but that's kind of the point.  Its to get a glimpse of a life, and a better perspective, that you may not have ever thought of.  As much as I have lamented this years Academy Awards I fully recognize these films have a very important role.

Likewise you can nit pick various aspects of the writing, and critique some of the over the top performances of Beauty and the Beast but you would be missing the point.  The point of Beauty and the Beast is not for its writing or masterful storytelling.  Some movies are simply to provide you with an experience.

What Beauty and the Beast provides is hard to describe but is very similar to the reason i'm obsessed with Disney World.  In fact throughout the film I couldn't help comparing it to the experiences that I did have there.  Disney World, through its rides and performances, provides a set of experiences that, with the exception of emotionally devoid individuals, leaves your mouth agape and eyes brimming with tears.  Tears due not only due to the emotional aspects peppered throughout, but also because of the pure child like joy that you experience through the beauty of the film.  So like I said.  Fun.

Beauty and the Beast accomplishes this through its lavish and intricate set design and costumes, over the top performances and musical numbers and emotional charged scenes.
Oh right!  Speaking of emotional characters.

I mentioned that near the beginning of the film I quietly whispered holy crap to my wife during a pretty joyful over the top musical performance.  That was one of only two things I whispered to her.

"Oh what the hell?"

That was the 2nd.

I know I know.  It's a Disney film.  I speak twice and both times its swear words (I actually cleaned the language up for this blog post)?

But seriously when you watch this film you will understand.

There is a particularly gripping and emotionally charged scene at the end that I do not want to spoil.  But man oh man was it a doozy.

So much love.  So much heartache and so much joy.

This movie was a cinematic experience that everyone should experience.  Well.  At least anyone who is a parent, child, Disney nerd or simply wants to experience childlike joy again.  Having you  experience that awe and wonderment that you used to experience as a child is what Disney does best.  Both through its theme parks and through its films.

Beauty and the Beast excels in this tradition.

Where I once used to ridicule cinema goers for clapping at the end of this film.  I found myself wondering why we weren't erupting in tremendous applause at the end of each musical number as one would at the end of an act in a theater production.

Bravo Disney Bravo!

When I first saw this film I loved it so much I predicted it would make a billion dollars.  Well it's taken me a while to finish this blog an it appears as though a billion isn't giving it enough credit.  The first weekend it earned 170 million in north America alone.  By the 2nd weekend it has reached 700 million worldwide.

This film is already on track to being one of the highest grossing films of all time.

And in this humble reviewers opinion its well deserved and I hope this leads to many more films of this caliber to come.


This blog is done.  But as a special surprise I happened across some never before seen behind the scenes footage dress rehearsals of the film.

Now without even having to go to the theater you can experience the elegance, the marvel, the masterpiece that is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment