Monday, March 20, 2017

Reactions to Disney's Live Action Beauty and the Beast

I know this is showing my age, but I was eleven years old when I first saw Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast in theaters in 1991. It's safe to say that movie changed my life. I constantly played (and sang along to) the soundtrack and dreamed of being Belle.

 When the Broadway musical became a thing in 1994, I became even more obsessed. I have always loved singing and theater, but the main reason I dreamed of being on stage was because I thought it would be so amazing to play Belle one day (but, alas, I can't dance, and I choke at auditions, and I really didn't have as much experience as I needed to make it into some of the schools I wanted to go to. And that all worked out just as it should have, because I have never had the mental/emotional fortitude needed to rough out an actor's life). As it was, I never even got to see the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast until about 20 years after it was first released--though I had also worn out the Broadway soundtrack and knew all the songs. It was great to finally be able to see them in the context of the play.

Last summer, a local high school put on an absolutely amazing production of the Beauty and the Beast stage play (I saw it twice), which rekindled a lot of my love for Beauty and the Beast, particularly since I knew that the live action movie was coming soon.  I learned in 2015 that the live action film would premiere on March 17, 2017.  My birthday is March 18, so I knew two years ago that I'd be seeing this movie for my birthday, and I did--and I had a whole themed birthday party around it.  And I finally, finally got to be Belle for the day--but that's another story.

With all the recent controversy over a supposed "exclusively gay moment" that the director said would be in the film, a few people questioned whether or not I would go see the live action Beauty and the Beast.  My answer: Of course I'm going to see it.  It's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  I'd been waiting years to see it.  But let me make this clear.  As long as you don't judge me for seeing it, I won't judge you if you have some reason why you choose not to see it.  I might not agree with your views, but I can appreciate that everyone has a right to have whatever views they have.  But I told several people that I would let them know what I thought of the entire movie as a whole (the "exclusively gay scene" will be one of the last things I address, so if that's all you want to know, scroll on down to where I address Parent Precautions), and so these are my thoughts--which I am still sorting out a bit.  I've added headings below to help me organize my meandering thoughts.  I will be getting the dvd, when it comes out, which I'm guessing will be close to Christmas.  Then I'll be able to analyze some things a little more closely.  So these are just my initial reactions.

I will try my best not to give spoilers (any that I do give will be in italics, and hopefully will just be light spoilers), but I'm going to just go ahead and assume everyone who has seen the animated movie already knows how the story is pretty much going to end.

First, I loved it.  Of course I loved it.  But if you're looking for a shot-for-shot reproduction of the animated film, you're going to be both pleased and disappointed.  Parts of it were extremely similar to the animated version, parts were closer to the Broadway version, and parts were exclusive scenes/songs to itself.  And after seeing the live action film, one of my first thoughts is that if you've seen the animated version, the play, and the live action version, you MUST treat them as different stories with similar aspects.  They all share music, songs, characters--but there are differences in songs and plot devices that make them all unique projects.  You cannot see them as the exact same story, because they are not the same exact story.

MUSIC
The live action version featured a few songs from the original animated version, including "Belle," "Be Our Guest," "Gaston," "Tale As Old As Time," and "The Mob Song."  I noted a few lyric changes, which was to be expected.  "Gaston" included several verses from the Broadway version, ones that I thought to be an improvement upon the original version.  There were also some other lyric changes that adapted to the particular story changes in the live action version.

One song in particular might be the reason I might buy the soundtrack (or at least some of the songs from it).  The Beast sang a beautiful, lamenting sort of song called "For Evermore" near the end of the film, right before the final battle with Gaston and the happy ending (that should not be a spoiler for anyone who has seen the animated version, right?).  The lyrics were interesting, from what I remember, but--wow.  Dan Stevens has an amazing voice, and he performed the song beautifully.  I was mesmerized by his voice.

To be honest, at first I was a little disappointed that they didn't include "If I Can't Love Her" and the reprise "If She Can't Love Me" from the Broadway version, just as I was sad they didn't include the Broadway version's "Home" for Belle (though they did use the music from it in a few scenes, which was a nice little nod to it).  I would have also really loved it if they had included "Human Again" from the Special Edition of the animated movie and the Broadway play, but I can see why there was probably only time for one enchanted object show-stopper--and given the choice, of course "Be Our Guest" was the one they should have gone with. But it was nice to hear a few new songs added to this version (including a little song that Maurice sang that was very touching) and I think it is interesting that one story, told three different ways, now has so many lovely songs connected to it.

ACTOR'S PORTRAYALS
I've already mentioned that Dan Stevens has an amazing voice, and I do think he was wonderful as the Beast.  Emma Watson was a perfect Belle, and her singing voice did not annoy me as much as I suspected it would.  It was actually quite lovely.  Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor were a perfect Cogsworth and Lumiere, and the CGI characters weren't nearly as creepy as they seemed in previews. Kevin Kline played a wonderful, less comical and more doting Maurice.  Luke Evans played a darker, more intelligent and manipulative Gaston.  Josh Gad as LaFou nearly stole the show.  There were additional enchanted object characters played by Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw that were all very well done and a lot of fun!  Nathan Mack was cute as Chip.

The only actor I was disappointed with was Emma Thompson, and it wasn't her portrayal as much as it was her awful, awful accent.  I have no idea why they chose to have her do this strange cockney sort of accent.  If you're going to take on an iconic role that was played by Angela Lansbury, you need to be someone as strong of an actress as Emma Thompson.  But I'm not sure why they chose to have her do some distracting and terrible accent that did not make me think of Mrs. Potts at all.  And I almost just wish they had cut out her rendition of "Tale as Old as Time," although there would have been outrage if they didn't dance to Mrs. Potts singing this iconic song.  Emma Thompson might have a lovely singing voice, for all I know, but NOT with that terrible accent.  Again, I think she played the role well--but I was so put off by the accent that I couldn't concentrate as much on her performance.

CHARACTERS

One thing I really enjoyed about both the Broadway versions and this new adaptation is that there was more of an emphasis on the plight of the enchanted objects.  You were sad for them in the animated version, but you really feel their pain in the play and the live action movie.  They are more three-dimensional characters with back stories and lives before they became household objects.  I appreciate that they were given a little more screen time when the curse was lifted.

Regarding Belle, I was a little afraid of how her character would be portrayed, for I had heard she was more of a feminist in this film.  The only way I really saw that play out is that she tried to take matters into her own hands and escape the palace.  She did try to teach a little girl in the village to read, which was one of the reasons the villagers didn't like her, but I think the Belle of the animated movie would have done the same thing.

In fact, she did teach the Beast to read in both the Special Edition of the animated film and the play version.  (VERY LIGHT SPOILER)The Beast in the live action version was extremely well educated and well-read.  There were many things about this Beast that were different from the Beast in earlier adaptations.  He was more cruel to Belle, in the beginning, but as we got to know him along with Belle, we realized he was intelligent, awkward, and extremely snarky.  Extremely.  I kind of appreciated that.  It was unexpected and fun.  I look forward to getting the dvd so I can analyze his character more.

Maurice was a much softer, less ridiculously comical character than in the animated version. The lack of silliness made his other character attributes, such as his devotion to Belle, stand out more. He was an artist, rather than an inventor (Belle seemed to have more of a knack for inventions), and that also made him seem a softer character.  I absolutely loved his character in this adaptation.

Gaston was much different in this adaptation than in the previous adaptations. I always saw the animated Gaston and the play Gaston as being very stupid, yet very sure of himself--which is a highly dangerous combination.  The live-action film Gaston was not stupid at all.  Rather, he was manipulative and conniving in an unsettling way.  I think he was intended to be seriously seen as an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive character.  I'll touch more on this later, as it added quite a bit of darkness to the movie that I did not expect.

I'll write more about LaFou below, but I really liked his character.  Without giving away any spoilers, I will say that there were some major changes to his character from the animated film and the play (that had nothing to do with his sexuality).  In my opinion, these were improvements, and I really enjoyed what they did with his character.
SPOILER HERE: I really think the relationship between Gaston and LaFou in this film could be seen as an emotionally abusive relationship.  Gaston wants LaFou around because he knows he's weak-willed and will give him all the praise his narcissistic heart desires, and he knows he will stick around no matter how cruel to him he is.  And it's interesting to see LaFou get to the point where he's had enough--and interestingly, it's not because Gaston is cruel to him.  LaFou, in this adaptation, is far more concerned with how other people are treated.  I think he realizes how Gaston has been manipulating him when he sees how Gaston manipulates others--and he is able to break free.


STORY ELEMENTS (no spoilers, unless you're just completely unfamiliar with Beauty and the Beast, which, in that case, why are you reading this at all??)

I liked that this version had some elements that were more similar to the original Grimm Fairy Tale than the other two Disney adaptations.  In fact, I always wished that the animated cartoon had included some of these elements.  It was nice to see them here.

It seemed that one of the things this movie tried to do was to answer a lot of the questions people have had with the original animated version.  It tries to answer some of the questions like:

"Why did the villagers not wonder what happened to the prince?"
"Why didn't the villagers know about the Beast until Belle showed them on the mirror?"
"Approximately how old was the prince when he became the Beast?"
"How long had the enchantment been going on?"
"What happened to the prince's parents?"
"What happened to Belle's mother?"


But, I have to say, for all the questions they answered (some of which were actually kind of common sensical, and I was annoyed that the movie catered to them), I was left with a lot of other questions.  There were aspects to this story that I really didn't like, just because they did not make a lot of sense.

For instance (no spoilers), there was a certain plot device unique to this movie that added a lot to one of the character's back stories, but then it was never used again.  It was an all too convenient device that really could have been useful in a lot of different ways, but after it was used once, it was forgotten.  I call B.S. (Beast Silliness), on that.

There was also more of a plot, for lack of a better term, around the Enchantress, but--it seemed so incomplete and confusing that I wish they had just left it out.

And honestly, that's the way a lot of things in this film made me feel.  Incomplete.  It was as though they had a lot of things they wanted to tell in this movie, but they didn't have enough time, so they only put forth half the effort to explain things that they needed to.  I was left feeling, "Oh, I can almost see what they wanted to communicate here, but...not quite."  So that was disappointing.

There were little glances between characters that made me wonder what they were thinking (I'm not even talking about the "gay moment" in case anyone was wondering), little things that were said that seemed out of place.  I really want to get the dvd and analyze things better--but my initial thought is, sadly, that there are a lot of things that were not given the full attention they needed, and the story suffered.  It never found that perfect balance.

I also think the director had some visions for this that weren't communicated well and just left me feeling confused, but I'll talk more about that directly below.

PARENT PRECAUTIONS

Ok, let me just cut to the chase here.  There was not a gay moment in this movie unless you really, really wanted there to be one.  I've read a lot of things that claimed that the LaFou in the animated version was probably in love with Gaston, too, but I have to say, I saw little evidence of that in ANY version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  I see him as more of a toadie, just a side kick that follows around a bully because he wants to be associated with power he cannot attain on his own.

The director seemed to have a lot of ideas he wanted to communicate in this film, including this "gay moment" or whatever.  Let me break down what I saw, because I was looking for it.  I doubt I would have seen anything at all if I had not been looking for it--because there was little that was obvious at all.  If you have any qualms about taking your kids--please don't let this "gay moment" nonsense stop you.

1. I doubt anyone else caught this, but I'm a grammar nazi, so I did.  In the prologue in the animated movie, the narrator said, "...if he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return, the spell would be broken."  The live action version used the word "their" instead of the word "her."  This is a nitpicky point, and might mean absolutely nothing (certainly nothing a child would notice), but I promised I would give an honest report of my reactions. The use of "their" instead of "her" could signify that it didn't matter if the spell were broken by a man or a woman.  It's a subtle thing that could mean nothing, but I did take note of it.
2. There was some line where LaFou said Gaston was "athletically built" and there might have been a hint of innuendo in that.  Maybe.  If you were looking for it.
3. Some have mentioned that LaFou gave Gaston a massage that seemed a bit sexual.  I completely disagree.  He was trying to cheer Gaston up and kind of touched his arm a couple of times.  It was harmless.  Unless you were really, really, really looking it to mean something more.
4. Gaston asked LaFou why he hadn't found a girl, to which LaFou had a witty reply.  I suppose it MIGHT have been construed as a remark that alluded to the fact that LaFou was still single because he was gay (because ALL single people are gay, don't you know /sarcasm).  But...only if you really, really, really wanted that to be what it meant.  I think this was perhaps the director's or writers' intention, but as I've mentioned, there were a lot of things poorly communicated and left open to interpretation.
5. This is really the only thing I might see people having a legitimate problem with.  The wardrobe character dressed three of the village intruders in women's clothing.  One of the villagers was extremely happy, even proud of his new look.  It was meant to be comical, but yeah, I can see how someone might have a problem with it.  I think that young kids would simply find it funny and not ask questions.  It wouldn't be something that would keep me from taking a child to see it.
6. Ok, so this "exclusively gay moment." Sigh.  Frankly, I can't speak for others, but I would think it would be a bit insulting to LGBTQ individuals to even call it an "exclusively gay moment" and to make a big deal out of it at all.  I am not saying I think Disney should start adding gay characters and gay moments, but if you're going to act as though you're doing something groundbreaking, then commit to it.  There was no commitment here.  There was a pathetic attempt to make something happen--but it was just nothing.  What happened was that the happy/proud character that the wardrobe dressed as a woman and LaFou shared an extremely brief, split second dance.  Literally.  It was on screen for less than a second.  I almost missed it.  One of my friends who was looking for it actually DID miss it, probably while she was blinking, because it was that fast.  And it was innocent.  There was a group dance where everyone was changing partners, and they accidentally ended up dancing with one another.  For less than a second.
Some have said that they shared a brief, knowing smile in this moment.  I did not see that.  Instead, I just saw a look of confusion, as anyone would have if they accidentally found themselves dancing with someone they did not expect to be dancing with.  There was literally nothing to it.
I can understand, even if I don't agree, if you choose not to see the film because you think there's some agenda Disney is trying to push.  But, in my opinion, if they're trying to push an agenda, this was a sad, weak, half-hearted attempt.
As I said, if you're going to do something groundbreaking to shock people, then commit to it.  There was no commitment here.  I still don't see LaFou as gay, whatever the director was trying to communicate.  I think if you want to see it, you will.  If you don't, you won't.  And your kids certainly aren't going to be scarred for life by this "exclusively gay moment."   As I suspected, this was a much ado about nothing.

However, I don't think this is a movie for young children.  There are some extremely dark scenes that will likely be scary.  The wolf scenes are not for the feint of heart.  A lot of the scenes with Gaston are also very dark--he really does come across as a more abusive character, with text book characteristics of an abuser.  Some of the things he did to others in this movie were very disturbing to me, and I don't think it appropriate for young children.  Use your judgment here--if you feel your child is old enough, at least give him/her a warning that there are going to be some really scary or disturbing moments that might be difficult to watch.



So overall, I loved the film.  I think it's another great adaptation in a series of adaptations.  I loved the music, the characters, the costumes (I didn't mention that before, but wow--Belle's yellow dress, happy sigh!), the unique elements of the story.  I do think there were a lot of things left to be desired--the director/writers just seemed to want to do too much with this, and the overall experience suffered.  It will never be a replacement for the animated version or the Broadway play, but I'm glad there is another adaptation to enjoy of this Tale as Old as Time.  Go see it if you want to, and use your best judgment in taking your kids.





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