The 7th Art: “Beauty and the Beast”: Beastly, Beautiful, or Just a Nostalgic Call? (Part 1)

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Written by Alaa A. Rahman and Mariem El-Tagoury

Alaa’s rating:

5/5

Mariem’s rating:

3/5

Although it has been 26 years since it came out on the big screen, Beauty and the Beast still manages to tug at our heartstrings and make us believe in the beauty lying within. One of Disney’s most celebrated classics, and the rose of the ‘Princess Renaissance’, Beauty and the Beast was lauded as one of the best animated movies in the history of Disney classics when it was released in 1991, and was the only animated movie to garner a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards – back when only 5 movies made the cut. It ended up winning Best Original Music Score for the song “Beauty and the Beast”. This year, a live action remake of the classic was released on March 17th starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast/Prince Adam.

Now, Beauty and the Beast is Alaa’s all-time favorite movie; one that he keeps re-watching without getting bored. He even prefers watching Beauty and the Beast over the Harry Potter movies – and for those of you who know him, that is saying something! On the other hand, Mariem herself is more of a Disney than a Warner Bros fan.

We had our doubts when they announced the remake. Alaa had very high expectations when the cast was announced and he watched the trailers as well as leaked clips; he’s a big Emma Watson fan. Mariem was more on the neutral side of the spectrum.

So What’s the Verdict?

In this review, we tackle the main aspects of the movie from our different perspectives. We got to watch the movie in the IMAX cinema in Americana Plaza (6 October) with friends; all 9 of us enjoyed the film overall, but let’s get critical and break it down for you, readers.

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Emma Watson as Belle

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Alaa: Despite a lot of criticism directed towards Emma for being too awkward, too cold, too stiff and too “meh” to play Belle, I believe Emma portrayed the outcast version of the character very well. Sure, her voice is not as strong as the ‘original’ Belle, Paige O’Hara, but she poured her heart and soul into the singing and portrayal of the lovable princess. Emma also brings a side to Belle that we don’t see in the animated cartoon: Belle in 2017 is an inventor, a passionate and heart-driven woman who is not afraid to take matters into her own hands. In short, Emma gave Belle a feisty, beautiful twist while maintaining the idea that Belle has always been “so peculiar”.

Mariem: To be honest, I personally was not wooed by her acting or singing. Emma Watson is supposed to be the main protagonist and is the money-making, high profile name in the movie. I expected more from her. It just felt like Emma being herself and reciting lines along the way, rather than being Belle the main character. I also think they should have cast an actress with a better singing voice rather than trying so hard with auto-tune.

18th Century France/The Conflict of Origins

Mariem:  First, the story takes place in 17th/18th century France; a country that had a big role in starting the slave trade path from Africa to Europe. It feels quite demeaning to see Disney brush that struggle and history aside by just adding several actors, as well as a singer, of African origins; also, with the addition of some white wigs and powder and a couple of smiles, we’re just set to act like slavery, racism, colonialism had never been…

Some argue that Disney is trying to be politically correct and persuasive to the viewer’s imagination, or perhaps they were trying to compensate whatever ‘blondness’ they added to the protagonists by adding variety to the side characters. The original Belle wasn’t blonde; she was a brunette. Prince Adam was also a brunette. Why does this matter!? Because Belle wasn’t your traditional pretty blonde princess; she was beautiful, despite her quirks; she was beautiful, but not fairytale stereotypical. So why take away our brunette Disney princess?!

Alaa: If we want to talk conflicts and history, then we would download a documentary on French history and just go at it. I believe since it’s a Disney movie – and the world is already so full of conflicts, history, and politics – I enjoyed the non-historical alignment that the movie brought along. I wasn’t expecting a historically correct adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

The Beast’s Castle

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Alaa: Kudos to the art direction team behind the sets in the Beast’s castle! They managed to create an architectural wonder by mixing the whimsically dizzying features of the castle with the brooding, gothic atmosphere that seems to loom over the snow-covered grounds. The castle is a portrayal of the darkness and despair that seem to have a hold on the Beast’s heart, adding more depth to its structure.

Mariem: I agree the baroque décor was definitely majestic and well designed. The pastel color palette used was very “Marie Antoinette”, if we can use that as an adjective. Also, I found it interesting that they linked the decay of the castle to the enchanted rose, besides the Beast and the staff.

The Graphics/Effects

Mariem: While I’m sure they spent a hell lot of money and effort on the effects, I personally had a problem with some of them. The effects sometimes were a bit too harsh or too quick; some that were supposed to be dazzling were just too blurry, and it wasn’t just me…I could overhear several other people in the audience complaining from dizziness as the director spiraled as a little too fast throughout the movie. Yes, we know it’s a 3D movie but we signed up for a movie not a roller coaster ride. My advice, take a soda along to help against the nausea. Another thing was the outdoor scenes could have been filmed outdoors for a more breathtaking effect, rather than using a green screen.

Alaa: I didn’t have a problem with graphics or effects, to be honest, seeing as how I felt they were natural to the storytelling; as if it’s an everyday occurrence that we have a Beast, talking, singing, growling and dancing, and ornaments doing their thing. Speaking of which, the “Be Our Guest” sequence was the epitome of effects in that movie, in my opinion.

By the way, Mohamed Ali – an Egyptian Visual Effects Artist – has worked on the movie’s effects, which makes it a whole lot more interesting.

The Songs and Score

Alaa: Alan Menken, who won an Oscar for the score of the original Beauty and the Beast, was back to add his charm, expertise, and soul into the music of the movie. For those of you who are familiar with the music, it is pretty much the same as the original one – which was already super perfect. The songs have been executed quite nicely with three new songs added as a tribute to the late Howard Ashman, whose lyrics are just phenomenal.  One song in particular that I believe is the perfect fit for this version of Beauty and the Beast, is called “How Does a Moment Last Forever (Montmartre)”, sung by Emma Watson in the movie. Listen to it, as it clearly shows Watson’s sweet and innocent voice quite beautifully:

Mariem: Again, I feel Emma Watson’s voice was a setback rather than a bonus and holds no comparison to Paige O’Hara’s. What was pleasantly surprising was Dan Stevens’ deep voice. The one song that had me tearing up was his song “Evermore”. According to Stevens, he experimented with different voices before settling on the ‘beast voice’ he used after practicing with customized fangs.

The next part of the review will answer some of your possible questions about the famous gay scenes, one of the biggest sequences in the movie, and further detail the role of the nostalgia. To be continued…

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