Beauty and the Beast (2017): It's the Beast (Not Belle)

Like in Jane Eyre, the male protagonist wears great coats.
The Beast makes this movie. Not Belle, unfortunately. Not this version anyway.

Casting Emma Watson as Belle is rather like casting Joan Fontaine as Jane Eyre--she doesn't exude waif-like dreaminess. She exudes the kind of levelheaded commonsense that can handle Ron Weasley, a large manor house, and possibly the role of prime minister. (Keep in mind that Joan Fontaine could be perfectly cast--check out Rebecca.)

Levelheaded commonsense is not a bad characteristic for Belle to have; it simply doesn't fit the original Disney lyrics nor the 2017 movie's casting.

Which is a pity since the casting is otherwise excellent.

Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and LeFou are well-cast, well-acted, and hilarious. Luke Evans' Gaston doesn't initially come across as boorish so much as down-to-earth, perceptive, and even fun to hang out with. Why wouldn't this Belle be interested? If the village is as boring as she claims, he is the most interesting thing around.

Of course, his descent into villainy underscores the theme: as Gaston loses any remnants of good behavior, the Beast gains in good behavior (Jean Cocteau's solution of having the same actor play both Beast and Gaston/Avenant is thematically ideal--but way too confusing a visual for a Disney movie: this is the studio that split the wolf/prince roles in Into the Woods).

The voice casting is perfect: Thank you, Ewan McGregor! In fact, as in the animated version, the song "Be Our Guest" is a magnificent old-time musical number headed by strong singers who are willing to be total hams when required.

And Dan Stevens as the Beast is excellent. As in any good Beauty & the Beast version, we come to adore him. Dan Stevens not only has a great voice (even without the Beast "filter"), the makeup/CGI gives his face the same surprising mobility of the animated Beast. The added bonus here is that his prince self is recognizable as the Beast. (But yeah, it's still not the same--I get a kick out of Belle's line: "Have you ever thought about growing a beard?")

In fact . . . we get to know the Beast too well. Dan Stevens' interpretation of the Beast fits the original version and the personality of the original Belle. He is erudite, dry-witted, a romantic at heart, history-minded, interested in architecture, given to big-hearted gestures. 

Belle 2017 is . . . I have no idea. I guess she reads, but she doesn't seem to do it very often (and she behaves as if she is reading to escape her boring life, not because it mesmerizes her--real readers read to breath).

They don't fit.

Again, a practical, down-to-earth Belle would make an entertaining possibility--she and the Beast could discuss the stock market, debate Hayek and Keynes, ponder the Black Swan effect.

That's not what this movie was trying to do.

Perhaps the solution is to go back to animation: Moana produces a pragmatic dreamer as the utterly likable female protagonist (Auli'i Cravalho as Moana)--while Dwayne Johnson as Maui makes a carefree, rollicking Beast (who should never change).

Of course, there are few things in life that top a ship of coconut pirates. Seriously. Not anything really can top that. 


Joe said...

This movie bored me so much, halfway through (on video at home) we went swimming. To me, it was a bad remake of a fabulous animated feature. In a weird twist, I also found that The Beast entered a sort of "uncanny valley".

(While I don't share the loathing some in my family have toward Emma Watson--perhaps because I gave up on the Harry Potter movies--she was woefully miscast at every level, though not as badly as Joan Fontaine in Jane Eyre. I read an interview with Watson and she clearly completely misunderstood the character of Belle and didn't care.)

Katherine Woodbury said...

I think "didn't care" is a good characterization. I was surprised--despite being warned (that's you, Roland) since I did think she was a good Hermione in the Harry Potters I saw. But she came across as entirely indifferent, almost listless from the beginning of Beauty. There's Luke Evans amusingly acting his heart out . . . and she doesn't care?!


Maggie Woodbury said...

Your review describes exactly what I felt was off about the film. There's nothing wrong with a level-headed, common sense characterization of Belle- it just doesn't fit the great lyric and tone of "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere". The wistfulness and desire of that statement, along with the immersion of wanting something else just for the dream of it. I actually miss the original dialogue in the original between Belle and the shopkeeper talking about her books. In this 2017 version, Belle reads Shakespeare. In the original, her favorite book is about "far off kingdoms, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise" (the Princess Bride...perhaps) While I like the Shakespeare shout out I miss the Belle just fascinated with stories.
Loved Josh Gad. His interpretation of Lefou brought a compelling complexity to a what was a simply comedic character.

Katherine Woodbury said...

In McKinley's Beauty & the Beast, the Beast's library contains all the books ever written in the past as well as in the future: The Library of Congress . . . PLUS. Talk about a book addict's dream-come-true.

That quote totally matches the grandfather's description of The Princess Bride!

Grandson: A book?

Grandpa: That's right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I'm gonna read it to you.

Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?

Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...

Grandson: Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try and stay awake.

Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.