Something There That Wasn’t There Before: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Come on. You know the story of Beauty and the Beast.

The story of Belle, a beautiful young maiden, ahead of her time and anxious to have more than just a provincial life, who, in exchange for saving her father, is held prisoner by a beast. The beast used to be a prince, but after he was cursed by an enchantress who saw the beastliness in his heart, became the beast and his servants became household objects. Belle and the beast fall in love, and the spell is broken.

Why this story has endured as a classic for so many years, despite criticisms about bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome, is probably because of this: we love stories about nerdy guys and hot chicks. Look to Back to the Future, Spider-Man, most of Woody Allen, Adam Sandler, and Seth Rogen’s entire film careers. Not that it hasn’t happened the other way around, but it’s a common trope that works. When you add that and a beloved 1991 Disney animated film with one of the best soundtracks of all time, that went on to be a musical, it makes it a pop-culture staple.

Fast forward to 2017, when Disney, down on its luck after only making seven billion dollars at the box office last year, decided to release a new live-action Beauty and the Beast, a film that nobody knew they wanted, but now enough people are pumped for to give it a $170 million domestic opening. That’s superhero movie level numbers we’re talking about! Turns out if you stall making a female superhero movie long enough, girls will turn the next available role model into one.

So does this new Beauty and the Beast do the original justice? Is it even necessary? And is Emma Watson (Harry Potter franchise), as Belle, a super-character?

This Beauty and the Beast follows all the same beats of the original. You’ve got everything from Belle’s singing on the mountain, to Maurice being locked up, to the Beast and Belle having dinner, to the iconic ball, to Gaston taking the mob to the castle. There are even shots that are direct replicas of the animated film. The primary appeal of this remake (besides the cast) are the details added. We get to learn about Belle’s mother and why Belle and Maurice moved to the village. Gaston and LeFou get more scheming time. The Prince’s curse is reenacted.

If that isn’t intriguing enough, then there’s the cast. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as the Beast, Luke Evans (The Hobbit Trilogy) as Gaston, Josh Gad (Frozen) as LeFou, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts. Those are some pretty stellar actors, and most of them bring their A-game.

However, the real heart of the film is Emma Watson. Her version of Belle wouldn’t be here without Paige O’Hara’s animated Belle, but Watson makes the role her own. The character isn’t reinvented at all, but instead, small details build upon the character’s foundation. For example, Belle loves to read. But reading is a bit of a passive activity. Does she do anything besides read? This script builds upon that, giving Belle another hobby- inventing. She invents a washing machine that allows her to teach a girl of the village to read. It makes perfect sense within the story, and it pays the utmost respect to the original.

Besides Belle, another staple of the original is the music numbers, and they don’t disappoint here. Almost every song had me wanting to get up from my seat. While leaving the theater and coming home, I attempted to dance with every friend I was with. They were not as enthusiastic about dancing in front of the theater as I was, so I sang to them instead, which I’m sure they appreciated.

An infectious feeling of joy flooded through the movie. It was an immersive experience. During a tense moment, I looked back at the rest of my crowded theater. The stranger beside me was tearing up, behind me a couple were gripping hands and sitting on the edge of their seats, and in front of me a little kid was slapping his father’s knee whispering, “I told you so, I told you it would happen!” Simply put- I felt the story. Any logical fallacies from the original (wait, why is Gaston so beloved in this town?) are solved (ahh, war hero!) so I can enjoy the themes a little more. The film explores how Gaston is able to manipulate the fears of the villagers. Maurice points out to Belle, “Small town can mean small minds, but it also means safe.” The love between Belle and the Beast has more ground than, “you saved my life, I saved yours, so we’re even-steven.” They have things in common, similar worldviews and backgrounds and outlook. The original makes it clear the characters get together in the end because it’s a fairy tale. This movie makes it clear it’s a fairy tale because the characters get together in the end. The story feels less predestined, a little less certain, and therefore, takes you on a journey.

But let’s get to the real questions, shall we? Because it is one thing for a teenager to like this film. Will you, hypothetical adult reader of this review who probably has memories of seeing this film as a kid or at least is really cynical, like this film?

Is Beauty and the Beast a cash grab?

Yes. To be fair though, everything made by major studios is.

Is Beauty and the Beast an unnecessary remake?

Depends. It’s unnecessary in that we have a fantastic animated film already, plus a French 1946 version for the brave of heart (I watched it in preparation for this film. It is stunning aesthetically, and ahead of its time, but is unintentionally hilarious if you watch it in the right, or maybe wrong, mood).

Here is how I see it: This new Beauty and the Beast is a companion piece to the original animated film. It’s the extended director’s cut. It fills in any holes from the original, gives it some updates, and offers some more nuanced performances that only live-action can really do. I don’t think it is here to smash your childhood between its fingers and light Howard Ashman’s legacy on fire. It’s here to expand and deepen the messages the story provides. It allows you to embrace this tale as old as time in a new way.

-Madeleine D

Superhero Suffering: Logan

Logan is the second R-rated comic book film from Fox, studio of the X-Men, following up on the success of Deadpool last year. Logan is also said to be Hugh Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine after doing eight films as the character, to which Robert Downey Jr flexes his muscles and says, You gotta be kidding! Whimp. I’m just getting started.

Full disclaimer, I have not seen any of the other X-men movies (I know, crazy!). However, I knew enough solid facts about Wolverine going into Logan to not be lost. I would suggest anyone who wants to see the film and hasn’t seen the others, do at least a quick scroll through Wikipedia before diving in.

Logan starts in the year 2029. The mutants are almost extinct. Logan is working as a chauffeur and is caring for an elderly Charles Xavier, who is suffering from a brain disease. After a deal goes wrong, he learns about an underground human experimentation group called Transigen that has created a group of child mutants, including a young girl named Laura with the same powers as him. He, Laura, and Charles Xavier go on the run to take Laura to a place called “Eden,” where she swears she and the other mutant children will be safe. Logan is reluctant, but right now he’s only living for Charles, who insists Laura and the other mutants are the future.

This was my first rated R film in theatres, and I saw it with my dad. Near the very end, as a character’s chest gets driven into a wooden spike for the second time, my dad turned to me and asked,

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, as I adjusted my hands over my eyes. “I can handle it.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

So it’s not a kid’s movie. If you’re the parent who took their kid to see Sausage Party because it was animated and Deadpool because it had a guy in a red costume, please take my warning and at least look at why something is rated as it is. Unless you’re training your child to be a doctor and want to expose them early to brain matter and gaping wounds, in which case I have some questions, please wait, no matter how great this film is.

And why is Logan great? Because it introduces new elements to the superhero genre that haven’t been done before.

Logan has some uncanny similarities to last month’s release, The Lego Batman Movie. While I won’t be reviewing it because its window has passed, I really enjoyed it. Both films are about tough, individualistic, rugged macho men learning to care about other people and let them in. They both find themselves in a parental role, and become great mentors and teachers in their own rights. While one has a climax that ends with a problem being solved by the power of abs and friendships, and the other is a more depressing look at age, alcoholism, immigration, and inner demons, both represent a new turn in franchise filmmaking.

In both Logan and 2015’s Mad Mad: Fury Road, the hero who has been the center of a film series for years gives their mantle to someone who represents the future. In Fury Road, it’s Furiosa and the Wives. In Logan, it’s Laura and the other mutants. This idea of passing the mantle to the future generation, which in both of these films are represented by female/minority/immigrants, is a striking commentary. Logan and Fury Road have also been critical hits, which might mean that more highbrow blockbuster films will follow the same path.

Logan is able to balance action and character, all within its Western feel. The film revels in being able to use Wolverine’s claws to their full effect. It doesn’t just stop with slashes, though. It innovatively incorporates the settings and locations to make unique action sequences.

But it is the quiet moments in the film that pull it into great territory. Watching Logan have to carry Charles Xavier to bed, hearing Charles rage at him in his senile moments about how much of a disappointment he is, bonded me to the characters, even though this is the only film I’ve seen them in. This film is a gift to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, giving them an opportunity to strip down their characters, build them up, and then set them in stone.

Now, most of us know that Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman can act. It’s Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23 that stuns and amazes. She not only performs her action sequences to a professional degree, but she is able to build up her own character’s legacy in a short amount of time. I can’t wait to see more from her.

Ultimately, what Logan does that is revolutionary is this: It has consequences, stakes, and follows through with them. That is something no major franchise is doing right now. Maybe it’s because of Logan’s finality, or the creative forces of director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman, but Logan’s greatest accomplishment is that it is okay with ending.

Except I enjoyed the film so much, I didn’t want it to.

-Madeleine D