A tale as old as 20 years ago.
I’m going to be ostracized no matter what, so I may as well just come out with it: I didn’t like Beauty and the Beast. I really wanted to. I was a big fan of the original, I was really excited for this movie’s new look with updated visual effects, and I was especially looking forward to Emma Watson as everyone’s favorite book-loving heroine. Ultimately though, I felt as though this movie didn’t live up to its expectation as a remake of the iconic Disney classic. Then again though, who in their right mind would want to remake Beauty and the Beast anyway?
The Beauty and the Beast remake follows the original about as much as you expect, but with a few changes. There’s still Belle (Watson), there’s still Beast (Dan Stevens), there’s still that egotistical jock Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad), as well as a slew of other characters. However, Disney thankfully updated their adaptation and made some changes to differ its live-action adaptation from its animated counterpart. Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is a clockmaker instead of an inventor, Beast’s origin is visually portrayed in the introduction, and Le Fou is now a homosexual. Conservatives roar in upheaval.
Since the homosexual aspect has been covered non-stop in mainstream media, I’m going to get that controversy out of the way first so I can focus more on the rest of the film. First of all: no, I don’t mind that Le Fou is gay. Gay characters have inhabited films numerous times over now, from Dog Day Afternoon all the way to Moonlight. Even in animated movies, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Finding Dory and Zootopia all had gay characters in them, however small of roles they played. To get outraged about a gay character to the point of banning the film is just ridiculous and over the top. For parents who are unreasonably angry about this, I would remind you that this is in a movie whose main characters experience Stockholm syndrome and bestiality. Where exactly do your priorities lie?
That being said, the character’s homosexuality was being heavily forced in the picture. I’m not criticizing Josh Gad, who plays Le Fou upbeat with energy and enthusiasm. I’m criticizing director Bill Condon, who paints the character as so on-the-nose gay that the only way to make it more obvious would be to nail a sign on Gad’s forehead. His high-pitched voice matches that of the women around him, his swagger so feminine that it’s surprising he’s not walking down a runway. His body posture and movements are so flamboyant that he comes off as pompous rather than genuine. Compare this to the nuanced performances of Stanley Tucci or Trevante Rhodes in The Devil Wears Prada or Moonlight. These were gay characters, but they weren’t so on-the-nose to the point where it was hokey or silly. Those characters felt like real people. Le Fou feels like a stereotype.
Again, I don’t mind that Le Fou is gay, but I do mind how it is portrayed as a caricature instead of a characteristic. Agenda or no agenda, topics such as sexuality need to be done well in film, and Le Fou’s is one that needed more finessing.
The rest of the film is… fine, I guess. Nothing really reaches out to you in the way that the animated film does, despite the added story content. I wondered why this was the case? From a technical standpoint, this film was produced at a higher quality than that of the original. The costumes are intricate and elegant, acutely embodying the traditional garb and style of the 19th century. The visual effects are astounding, and the castle characters pop out to you more than they did in the original. And the music, which recruits original composer Alan Menken, rejuvenates Beauty and the Beast’s soundtrack with newfound vigor for a modern audience.
Beauty and the Beast does all of this well, yet it’s still lacking. Why? When I look back on it, I think it comes down to the performances, or more accurately how they are captured. Stevens has his breakout role here as the Beast, but he never really sticks out beyond his roars and coarse deep voice. It feels like the CGI is doing more of the performance than he is, while he more or less just moves in the background, never really taking presence on-screen. Considering how much he stood out in television shows such as “Downton Abbey” to independent flicks such as The Guest, it’s sad to see his talents diluted down here to basically a motion performance.
His co-star Watson is sadly an even bigger disappointment. Her performance was the part I was most excited about in the film, but while watching her, I noticed that she felt more stiff and wooden than even the castle characters did. Everytime she spoke a line that Paige O’Hara spoke in the original, it didn’t feel like it was Belle speaking. It felt like Watson was just reading from the page during a script read. The only actor to wholly embrace his role was Luke Evans as Gaston, who ironically enough is the most cartoonish character out of the whole cast.
I don’t even necessarily blame the actors for their awkward placement in this film. I think Condon just didn’t know how to direct them to their fullest potential. Among his credits include the last two Twilight films and The Fifth Estate. He didn’t know how to guide his cast in the right direction in those movies either. Why would he suddenly learn how to do it now?
I know this review will be divisive among passionate Disney fans, who perhaps will love the source material too much to see when it isn’t done well. The film remains to be brilliantly produced, visually stunning, and pleasing to the ears. It’s a for-sure lock for multiple technical awards at the Oscars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it even won a few as well.
But Beauty and the Beast feels too much like it’s trying to replicate the emotions from its animated counterpart instead of trying to fill it with its own life. It’s sad, really. Disney took a bold step in remaking one of its most well-known properties, only to crumble underneath the sensationalism of it all. And people thought the gay character would be the movie’s biggest problem.