Sunday, 2 April 2017

Kinky and the Friesian

I finally saw the live action "Beauty and the Beast".  Since the animated version is one of my favourite Disney films, I was sceptical when I heard they were attempting a live action remake, starring Hermione.

<Stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers.>
 <Spoilers imminent.>
<Absolute spoilerificness from here on out.  You have been warned.>
Hermione may be the brightest witch of her age but she sings like a Muggle.  It's ok; no-one gets every talent.  But once upon a time films dubbed actors who could not sing.  That's a tradition they might want to think about reviving.

Gaston rides a Friesian.  And the carriage sent to take Maurice to the asylum is pulled by four Friesians.  Thanks, Disney—you embrace PC colour blind casting yet you go with tired stereotypes like putting the bad guy on a black horse.  Did you notice, Disney, that in "Ladyhawke", the film that introduced the world to the Friesian horse (to our infinite gratitude), the bad guy rode a white horse and the good guy rode the Friesian?

Philippe is a Lusitano rather than a draft horse.  He also appears to have been played by about four different equine actors.

They added a few songs that weren't in the first film and they were all unlistenably awful.  This was Disney's biggest mistake, though they also used the ridiculous movie trope of having someone ride away on a horse that has been harnessed to a wagon.  Funny how the surcingle, traces, and long driving reins mysteriously morph into a saddle and bridle.  Must be magic, but the castle ain't Hogwarts and Hermione doesn't have her wand.

There were some minor changes and elaborations on the backstory that made it more realistic, if that word has any place in reference to a movie about an enchanted castle:

Maurice is an artist, not an inventor, and it's explained that Belle's mother died of plague.  The one mystery left hanging is that Maurice fled Paris with the infant Belle when his wife was sick so she wouldn't catch the disease, but not everyone who contracted plague died, so theoretically the mother could have survived but had no way to find them.  Perhaps she will appear in the inevitable sequel.

Incidentally, Maurice is played by Kevin Kline.  When I heard he was in the cast, I assumed he was going to be Lumiere.  He would have been the perfect choice for that role, although he was a distinguished Maurice.  I am glad they decided to re-envision Maurice as an elegant Frenchman rather than a goofy one.

The prince is enchanted as an adult.  This makes much more sense.  In the original, it was never clear where his parents were.  Why was a small child in the position of answering the castle door and turning away the old woman on his own, and why was a child, whose morals were being shaped by the adults around him, punished for life for his behaviour. 

Even the question of why the innocent castle staff were punished along with him is lightly addressed here, although poorly:  They blame themselves for letting the prince's character be influenced by his evil father.  That's a bit of a stretch given that they were servants in an era when they could have been dismissed or even killed for the slightest disobedience.

His older age at enchantment means that the prince is literate ("I had a very expensive education" he quips to Belle when she is surprised he can quote Shakespeare).  Rather than Belle somewhat unrealistically teaching him to read, a love of books is instead something they bond over.  The prince gets to be a bit snarkier, teasing her about her taste in literature, which she returns in kind.  This gives more bite (pun intended) to their interaction.

LeFou is gay and infatuated with Gaston.  It's implied that they are butt buddies.  Not that Gaston is gay, it's more in the way that men in certain macho cultures believe that, as long as they are topping, casual homosexual behaviour is not emasculating.  When LeFou sings that Gaston bites during wrestling, he lifts his shirt to show a bite mark on his abdomen, and he dances with a man (earlier shown to enjoy dressing in drag) in the finale ball scene.  But the pièce de résistance is when LeFou changes the line "no-one's neck's as incredibly thick as Gaston's" to, you guessed it, "no-one's dick's as incredibly thick as Gaston's."  At first, I thought this must be wishful thinking on my part, that Disney wouldn't dare, but that is definitely what he sang.  Disney has always snuck in jokes and references meant to go above children's heads and amuse the adults but this took it to a more overt level.

The townspeople are not romanticised.  They are illiterate, anti-intellectual, superstitious, shallow, and easily misled.  Basically, the 18th century equivalent of Trump voters.  Belle's disdain for them is amply justified.

When the curse becomes permanent, the enchanted staff become fully inanimate objects, no longer anthropomorphic.  It's fairly dramatic and moving to see them losing their humanity, conscious of it slipping away but unable to stop the process.

The "Be Our Guest" segment contains a number of mistakes that are played for humour.  After all, the castle staff have not organised a dinner in eons, so there would be some flubs in their eagerness to go all out.

That's all that jumped out at me on first viewing; I'll augment this review after I have seen it again as I am forgetting a lot.  Oh, one more thing: When the beast lamented, "Who could love a beast?" it raised a titter from the Internet-savvy crowd.  Today, all he'd have to do is Google to find plenty of people who are into that.

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