Monday, March 27, 2017

RockOtaku Reviews: Beauty And The Beast (2017)

Hello degenerates, heathens, weirdos, deviants, rebels, and defected Imperial officers.  I am the Rock Otaku, and I’m here to show you worlds such as hard rock, metal, punk, alternative rock, movies, TV, anime, video games, and anything that makes us scream, shout, and want adventure in the great white somewhere.

Today, I review a movie that I’ve recently seen that both fits my interests alongside my standards of high-octane, high-caliber blockbusters: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

But before I dig in, let me tell a story.

Once upon a time, there was an animation studio that lived in Burbank, California.  They were once a floundering shell of the same studio that advanced the medium of animation and brought cutting-edge technology to the art to tell timeless stories for all audiences.  But like the sands of time, the man that lead their glories died and left the studio to an uncertain future.  To ensure their livelihood, the men that stood by this legend’s side brought in several new apprentices to learn the art of animation from the masters, become masters themselves, and continue the legacy of this one man while adapting to the times and pushing the boundaries of storytelling themselves.  After a long grueling process, where some of the apprentices left this quest to attain glory for themselves, the art they developed, with the help of outside resources that pushed their work to the masses, started to go from mediocre or below the desired standards to outright masterpieces, launching a Renaissance that began with a mermaid.  From this story came various groups of people, some masters of art, others storytelling, others music, and everyone passionate, who went to work on another project that would SURPASS their previous achievement.  With guidance from Don Hahn, direction by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, animation that included the talents of everyone from Glen Keane and Andreas Deja, and music and lyrics by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, who put his all into what would be his final project, the Walt Disney Studio would bring to the world Beauty and the Beast, a cinematic landmark that pushed the limits of animation further back, appealed to all audiences young and old, captured their hearts as well, and was nominated for the Academy Award of Best Picture.

And now we have a remake from the director of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2 in theaters with an all-star cast of Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and several other well-known actors and actresses, and the same composer from the animated classic.  The immediate question is: Why?

Why remake something that established Disney as THE studio for animated masterpieces, that touched audiences when it came out, touches today’s generation and will touch future generations, and was NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE!?  The first animated feature to do so, to be exact.  Why redo what can be considered perfection?

The answer?  Uh… You get a decent movie, to be honest.

There are some issues here that I’ll get to, but let me discuss the positives first.  First, the acting is definitely good, not great, but good.  There’s a sense that these actors were chosen because of their iconography and star power rather than if they fit the character, even weirder when a good chunk of the main cast is covered in massive amounts of CGI.  But most of them, with a few notable exceptions, do a good job here, with Kevin Kline and Josh Gad being among the better actors, both due to their performances and how they both take the characters they’re playing, Maurice and LeFou, in new directions that allow them to show their acting chops while giving strong arcs in character development, especially the latter, which I’ll get to in the spoiler section.  The colors are also strong here, being vibrant when needed, like with the village and in several key scenes, and muted and dark to set an eerie atmosphere around the Beast’s castle after the curse is put on it.  Plus the plot does fill in a few plot holes from the original to ensure that things flow better, despite the animated movie having easy reasons for some of them. 

As for the bad, there’s an issue with two characters, Belle and the Beast.  Not to say that these are bad characters, but they are nowhere near as strong as they should be, especially when you make comparisons to the original film.  For the former, it really does feel Emma Watson was cast due to her star power thanks to her role as Hermione Granger and her appeal as a feminist icon.  Not to say that making Belle even more of a feminist icon than the original is a good idea, but they almost hit the mark.  Too bad some of her actions aren’t convincing, the performance feels like Hermione Granger in France, and her singing voice (with or without AutoTune) is nowhere near as fitting to the character as Paige O’Hara’s excellent performance.  The Beast is slightly better in the acting department by Dan Stevens, who could make for a much bigger star after this, but the CGI is surprisingly unneeded, due to his design, as proven by the mini-series of the same name with Ron Pearlman and Linda Hamilton and the works of Guillermo Del Toro in regards to creature design and makeup, being a little too human-looking.  It’s as if that to ensure there is an illusion of an actor playing a CGI character, they gave the beast a more human face and moé girl fangs rather than go all the way with the CGI and recreate the animated beast in a live action environment.  But the CG issues don’t end there.

There is a lot of CGI here, making good chunks of the movie look like a video game.  I should not be complaining about that for action movies, but this is a fairy tale romance, and in a vain effort to top the impressive visuals of the original, they do so much that it looks very, very fake and obvious.  And the worst part, some of the designs, while okay, really push it in regards to how out of place they look when next to any of the live action actors.  Said designs range from believable in that situation, really altered to fit the whole live-action aspect of this film, and others outright discomforting and unappealing, ranging from how stiff Coggsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip, and a few others look to Lumiere being reimagined from a bouncing candelabra to a little golden man with candle-holders on his head and replacing his hands.  And for the CG sets, sometimes they’re unnoticeable and mesh with any practical sets used in this movie (which is pretty strong), sometimes they really do stick out like a sore thumb.  If you told me that the movie was loaded with CGI and it’s VERY easy to spot, I would have stuck with the ’91 original animated classic, especially if it were an exact remake of it.

While not exact, this movie’s plot points are so slavishly close to the original’s that it really makes this movie feel almost unnecessary if it wasn’t as good.  In reality, it’s obviously not as good as the original, but when it tries to add backstory to them, there are moments where I’m like “well that’s alright, I guess?” “I really did not need that, but it’s alright,” or (Spoilers) “did they pull the Martha thing from BVS again?”  Along with that, there are a few alterations to the characters that may work with some and may derail the movie for others.  In this version, Belle is the inventor who’s seen as the complete kook (instead of Maurice in the total weirdo department), the Beast is said to have transformed as an adult and the castle was frozen in time, with all memories of it and his servants removed from the townsfolk (which is important for the ending), Gaston is a war veteran and a more sinister than his animated counterpart, LeFou is smarter, has more common sense, and questions his loyalty to Gaston while keeping him controlled (and something else for the big spoiler section, but it’s not as important to the movie as you’d think, it’s a side thing), Maurice being played as a much more tragic figure than his animated counterpart (and less likely to be played weirder in YouTube Poops than in canon, despite being played by Otto from A Fish Called Wanda), and being amazing, and there’s a new character that gives some backstory to the Dresser here.  Does this fundamentally change the main plot?  The truth is, it doesn’t.  And that really hampers the two leads, who’s roles were done to perfection in the original, but here, the glaring problems causes them to feel a lot weaker and grow in friendship rather than romance, despite the movie telling me that they’re in love at the end.  I’ll get to the other characters, but I’ll need a rundown of everything else.

Despite their CGI designs, the castle servants are done okay here, and some of the casting is surprisingly great.  For Lumiere, I did catch on that it was Evan McGregor playing him, but his French accent was pretty impressive (better than his American accent, to say the least *cough*Robots was alright, ERod*cough*).  I really did think that it was actually pretty funny to have Ian McKellan play Coggsworth and actually be pretty funny at points while giving him the right amount of class and dignity, plus having Gandalf against Hermione is enough to drive early 00s fantasy film fans nuts.  Plus Emma Thompson really knocked it out of the park as Mrs. Potts, nailing Angela Lansbury’s Cockney accent and motherly tone, and at least they got a British boy to play Chip rather than some American boy like in the original, so that’s a minor improvement.  Everyone else was pretty good, even Stanley Tucci, with all of them having to play the characters with their voices, with Plumette and the Dresser giving some nice ladies much needed exposure in the Hollywood circuit.  And is it weird that there are a lot of extras and actors of a more diverse makeup than the original, or even 18th century France?  I might have to look into the latter.

Plus the set design, when not drenched in CGI is fantastic, the colors are extremely well done, and the cinematography is beautiful at points, even when some of the scenes were better shot in the animated original.  And the music, yes the music is decent here.  The good is that Alan Menken is back to score the feature, and he’s on a role in recapturing the music of the original, and rescoring the musical numbers to give them a more live-action, Broadway feel at points.  However, some of the cues did come from the original, as if Disney is trying to saying “Remember the original film?”  That and the new songs range from unneeded to surprisingly good, as I feel “Forevermore” could have worked in the original, despite it being more straightforward in the Beast’s love in Belle there.  But there is one major point to note about the songs from the original here.

Some of the actors aren’t as strong as their animated counterparts while Josh Gad is excellent here.  While Dan Stevens is no Robby Benson, he does give a slight air of dignity to the musical numbers while having some good pipes.  If the only issue with Luke Evans is that his singing voice isn’t as deep as Richard White’s, then it’s clear he did a good job as Gaston in the singing department while exuding arrogance and vanity.  The actors playing the servants also do a good job, some of them better than others, while Emma Thompson does a pretty good job at here singing.  The weak link?  Emma Watson.  She sounds like she’s doing karaoke versions of these songs at best and filtered with a lot of AutoTune at worst, and we can agree that the original actor, Paige O’Hara trumps Ms. Watson in this department.  Apparently Hogwarts doesn’t have singing classes.  The choreography is pretty good here, giving it a Broadway feel at times while going overboard with the CGI to top the original’s visuals.

But before I get to the end, I have to bring this up.  With all the ornate visuals of the castle, the costume design, the casting, the setting, the props, and some of the effects work, does anyone get a certain vibe from this movie?  If you do, then I can tell you that this movie’s visual look reminds me a lot of the visual kei subculture in Japan.  Why?  Well, the 18th century French designs and ornaments are so gaudy and makeup laden that the opening itself, which deviates from the original, reminded me of the visual appearances of bands like Malice Mizer, L’Arc-en-Ciel, and Versailles (Philharmonic Quintet) based on their attire and makeup.  Which becomes even weirder since they casted actors and actresses of ethic descents rather than white to play many roles here, some of them major, and a big part of the appeal of modern visual kei is the idea of Japanese men (and sometimes women) dressing as European noblemen of the 18th and 19th centuries while playing rock, punk, metal, pop, alternative rock, electronic, and other genres of music with a classical flair.  If this movie gets fans for its visuals, I’d recommend that if you are one of these fans, search for a visual kei playlist on YouTube and admire the costumes while getting your face melted.

So before I get into a few spoilers, let me get this out of the way and reveal the score first.  This movie is fine, it isn’t the 91 original classic, and it’s trying to be.  Where it works is when it captures what worked about the original in the story department and translating it to live action while giving us new versions of certain characters that probably work as well, if not better than, their original counterparts some of the time.  The visuals are fittingly gaudy, but impressive, despite the use of CGI.  The music and songs are good here.  But Emma Watson is clearly miscast while the CG budget either needed a boost or a decrease to feed the practical effects and makeup effects budget for a certain character due to the direction they went.  In all, it’s not an awards winner, nor is it a complete disaster, but it’s definitely a crowd pleaser.

Final Rating (Spoilers below included): 6/10 (good on its own, but meh compared to the original that it’s trying to be)

Now for the spoilers.  Apparently the Beast was once a kind, selfless, charitable kid before his mother passed away, then his father corrupted him.  As for Belle, we learn that she was born in Paris, and she and Maurice moved out when her mother died from the Plague, with the mask-wearing doctor in check to verify it for historical nerds.  And yes, I could say that this is a decent idea, especially since the servants tell Belle of the first thing I’ve mentioned (with a new musical number thrown in for good measure), but after Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, having the two leads bond over their mothers may have to wait a while before coming back.  Plus we learn that the unnamed war in the movie really put a toll on Gaston psychologically, causing him to be significantly crueler and more bloodthirsty than his animated counterpart.  Whereas in the original, Gaston is a jerk, but a lovable one, whose tendencies got worse after being rejected by Belle and STILL trying to get her in his arms, right down to having Maurice institutionalized, this version is a bigger asshole while using hunting references to explain why he’d prefer Belle.  That and he uses guns a lot more here, using a pistol rather than a bow, arrows, and a dagger against the Beast.  For Maurice, he’s significantly played to be more fatherly and tragic, considering that Belle’s mother died in her infancy and she never got to know her.  As for how Belle learns, we learn that the Enchantress gave Beast a book that allowed him to travel to any place in the world he desires, and Belle uses it to go to where she was born, learning the truth there.  That and the Enchantress is seen a lot more here, first as a beggar in the village Belle lives in, then helps Maurice after Gaston tried to kill him, then came along with the villagers when they went with Gaston to “kill the Beast” in the final act.  And she reverses the curse (and brings everyone back to life from death or complete transformation into knick knacks, and interesting change from the original) when she stumbles on the West Wing, seeing a crying Belle over the Beast.  And her role creates some plot holes that I’ll discuss at a later time.  As for the ending, I did get a laugh out of Coggsworth revealed to be unhappily married after he returned to normal while Mrs. Potts did have a husband here (both of them villagers).

Now to look into the controversy that flared up.  A couple of weeks ago, Bill Condon revealed that there was a big “gay scene” involving LeFou and confirming that he was gay in this version.  As a result, some of the scenes in the movie where he’s trying to keep Gaston in check come off as… not really as off putting as expected and closer to the new characterization of him being SMARTER than Gaston and concerned about the town’s war hero’s decreasing sanity.  Hell, the “gay scene” is just a shot of him dancing with another man in the final moments of the movie, with no cheeky “are we doing this?” look in the both of them.  They just continue dancing merrily.  Short, sweet, and not mocking them both for it.  And it’s so quick that I’m sure that gay-rights activists are going to feel blue-balled unless they looked between the lines beforehand (and even in the original, where you can make the case where the dumber version of LeFou is gayer than the new version).  Even more surprising is that there’s a scene where the Dresser does her work on three thugs, and while two of them freak out when they end up in women’s clothes, one looks as if he enjoys the change in dress.  And guess which two characters end up dancing together in that “gay shot” because saying “gay scene” is really overselling what amounts to nothing plot-relevant anyway.  At least LeFou’s a better character in this version than in the original, though.

Jeez, I hope the next movie I review isn't loaded with controversy about one's sexuality.  Though I am interested in checking out Power Rangers.

Until next time, this is the Rock Otaku.  Live Loud, Play Hard, and Be Out Guest.

All used references are done under the rules of fair use and are owned by their original creators. 

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