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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast Review

(NOTE: This Review Contains Some Minor Spoilers, So Be Careful...)




Who Made Beauty and the Beast?

Beauty and the Beast is a live-action remake of Disney’s 1991 animated film of the same name, which was in turn based on the famous fairy tale, first published by in 1740. This version is directed by Bill Condon, and the screenplay is written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, (based on Linda Woolverton's screenplay for the original)

What’s It About?

Beauty and the Beast is about Belle (played by Emma Watson), whose love of reading makes her an outcast in the French village of Villeneuve. When her father, Maurice (played by Kevin Kline) gets lost in the woods, he stumbles upon the castle of the Beast (played by Dan Stevens) a prince who was cursed by an enchantress for his selfish behaviour. When the Beast imprisons Maurice, Belle volunteers to take her father’s place in the decaying castle, which is inhabited by the Beast and a team of servants who has been turned into enchanted objects by the curse, including Lumiere the Candelabra (voiced by Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the Clock (voiced by Ian McKellen) and Mrs. Potts the Teapot (voiced by Emma Thompson). Over time, Belle finds out that the Beast is not as unpleasant as he initially seemed, and begins to develop a closer relationship with him. However, the narcissistic hunter Gaston (played by Luke Evans) wants Belle for himself, and is willing to use increasingly nefarious means to get her hand in marriage. Furthermore, if the Beast cannot get Belle to admit her love for him, he and his staff will remain in their cursed forms forever.

My Review

As a remake of one of the most beloved animated films of all time, the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast has been under considerable pressure to measure up to the high standards set by the original. Many people have argued that turning Beauty and the Beast into a live-action film is unnecessary, but the story of Belle and the Beast has been adapted for many forms of entertainment since its release, including video games and comic books. With its increased length and extra musical numbers, this live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast is closest to the stage version which ran on Broadway for 13 years. Adapting Beauty and the Beast into live-action provides a set of interesting advantages and challenges, and it is fun to see the cast and crew behind the movie deal with these. For the most part, Beauty and the Beast translates well to live-action, ensuring this version is enjoyable to watch.

The main difference between the original film and the remake is apparent in the first few seconds. The opening narration explaining how the Beast and his staff got cursed has been transformed into a full prologue which gives us our first look at these characters. In place of images on a stained-glass window, we get a scene showing off a cast of dozens dancing in an opulent ballroom, before the enchantress reveals herself in a burst of special effects. This scene makes it clear that the live-action remake is going to emphasise scale and spectacle, and this approach is sustained throughout Beauty and the Beast – every cent of the movie’s $160 million dollar budget seems to have been spent on making it look as magnificent as possible. The visuals are the strongest aspect of the movie by some distance. The large cast makes the bustling town of Villeneuve and the Beast’s giant castle seem impressively authentic, the sets are spectacular, and the special effects are generally pretty impressive. Whilst the new looks for Cogsworth, Lumiere and the other enchanted objects in the castle staff seem a bit creepy at times, the interactions between these CGI characters and people like Belle feel almost completely natural.

Beauty and the Beast starts pretty slowly. Though the first hour or so of the movie does a good job of highlighting Belle’s status as a misfit, but it takes a while to set up the story, the Beast is a bit underdeveloped early on, and in spite of the great visuals and songs, it’s hard to connect with the characters.  However, the film is much stronger in the second half. Belle’s interactions with the Beast are particularly enjoyable, as they realise that they have a number of common interests, and it becomes clear that the two have plenty of chemistry. A climactic fight between the Enchanted Objects and an angry mob sent by Gaston to storm the Beast’s castle is wonderfully over the top, and, although the climax is a bit overlong, the closing scenes are very sweet. Although the story of Beauty and the Beast is one we all know by heart, there are enough interesting elements in this version to make it feel engaging and satisfying in its own right.

In addition to affecting the look and feel of the film, the transition from animation to live-action has also had a considerable impact on the portrayal of some of the characters, with some who were portrayed in a cartoonish fashion in the original being given greater depth. Maurice, initially a ridiculous oddball in the original, is a much more serious figure here, whilst Gaston’s henchman LeFou (played by Josh Gad) is transformed from a clownish victim of slapstick injuries to an initially loyal assistant who becomes increasingly uncomfortable with Gaston’s actions as the story progresses. Gaston is also portrayed in a much more realistic manner, as we see more of his ability to lie and manipulate others, and his failure to obtain his goals causes him to succumb to his violent instincts. Although Gaston still gets some funny moments, the comedic aspects of his character are downplayed compared to the original film. However, after Frozen, having a handsome and seemingly heroic individual who turns out to be a self-serving scumbag is no longer a novelty. Thus, with his macho nature toned down, this incarnation of Gaston is not quite as memorable as he was in the original film. Overall, the medium of live-action prevents the characters from being as expressive as they were in the animated version, but they have enough personality to prevent this from being too much of a problem.

All the classic songs from the original Beauty and the Beast are retained in this version, and they are generally used well. “Belle” benefits from the increased scale of this adaptation (which amplifies the energy and activity of the song), and “Be Our Guest” is great fun– It’s not every day you see cutlery and feather dusters put on a grand musical number. That said, there are instances where the use of songs from the original film can be a liability. For example, the cartoonish excesses of Gaston’s eponymous song clash with the more realistic portrayal of the character in this version, and Emma Thompson’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” lacks the power of Angela Lansbury’s original. However, Howard Ashman’s lyrics and Alan Menken’s score are always excellent to listen to, and it’s a pleasure to hear these great songs sung by famous actors. In addition to the six songs from the original movie, there are three new ones, “How Does a Moment Last Forever?”, “Days in the Sun“, and “For Evermore“. All of these are emotional ballads, with “For Evermore” proving to be the strongest, as Dan Stevens captures the power of the lyrics.

In addition to the new songs, the live-action remake has several new elements, which make the movie about 40 minutes longer than the original. Some of these are totally superfluous, such as the new character Cadenza (an enchanted harpsichord voiced by Stanley Tucci) and unnecessary revelations about Mrs. Potts (who has a husband who lives in Villeneuve) and the Beast (whose initial nature was due to the influence of his tyrannical father). There is also a magical book which can transport Belle and the Beast to any time and place they wish to visit (leading to a scene where Beast learns about Belle’s past). This is an interesting idea, but belongs in another movie where it would have a larger role and get used in a more satisfying fashion. However, a couple of changes which add to the fairy tale feel of the story are more effective. The enchantress who cursed the Beast has a much larger role in the story, and the scene where Maurice comes across the Beast’s castle is changed to make it closer to the original 18th century version of Beauty and the Beast. These two twists increase the mystery of the story instead of removing it. Sometimes, less is more, and that lesson even applies to lavish live-action remakes of Disney classics…

One of the advantages of doing Beauty and the Beast in live-action is the all-star cast. Emma Watson is a strong and lively Belle, never feeling like a damsel-in-distress. Her status as an intelligent misfit makes her an appealing and relatable protagonist. Dan Stevens capably handles the Beast’s changes in personality, as he evolves from an intimidating monster to a likeable love interest with a dry sense of humour. Luke Evans is effective as a more menacing incarnation of Gaston. Josh Gad gets some funny lines as LeFou, but his eventual redemption something of a foregone conclusion –Gad is too likeable to play a straightforward villain. Kevin Kline is a real standout as Maurice, the character who has been most improved from his incarnation in the animated film, and his relationship with Belle makes a refreshing change from the strict father/rebellious daughter dynamic traditionally associated with Disney. The Enchanted Objects are all likeable characters, but it’s a bit distracting to hear the likes of Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci put on a French accent. The singing is mostly strong. Although Emma Watson sounds a little auto-tuned at times, she generally conveys the emotion of all her songs very well. Taking their musical theatre backgrounds into account, it’s no surprise that Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald and Kevin Kline are good singers, but Dan Steven’s deep and rich singing voice is a pleasant surprise. The film manages to make good use of its strong cast, as they are playing interesting characters and having fun doing so.

Verdict

We all knew that the live-action version Beauty and the Beast would not be as brilliant as the original. It’s a little too big and elaborate for its own good, and often lacks the charm of the animated version. However, it’s still interesting to see this classic story told in a new medium, and there are enough worthwhile moments to ensure that it stands out. Taken on its own terms, the remake of Beauty and the Beast is a fun movie with spectacular visuals, great songs and memorable characters. If you have to choose one version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to watch, watch the original instead of this one. However, if you don’t mind seeing the same story told in a new way, or just want an enjoyable musical to provide 2 hours of escapism, then this remake of Beauty and the Beast is definitely worth watching.

If You Liked This, See:

Beauty and the Beast (1991) – For all the additions made by the live-action remake, Disney’s original version of Beauty and the Beast is still the best. It has the same great characters and same great songs as the remake, but its warmth and simplicity ensure that it still holds up as a must-see.

Cinderella (2015) – Out of all the live-action remakes which Disney have released in recent years, Cinderella is the closest to Beauty and the Beast, with its predominantly British cast and its lavish scenery. It provides an excellent example of the distinctive formula used by Disney’s live-action remakes, as it is faithful to the 1950 version of Cinderella whilst adding its own special touches.

La Belle Et La Bete – Jean Cocteau’s version of Beauty and the Beast from 1946 is one of the definitive non-Disney fairy-tale films, and its black-and-white cinematography continues to enthral viewers today. Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast even features a homage to this version by showing living hands holding lamps at the entrance to the Beast’s castle.

                                              

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast - Articles and Interviews

Almost 2 years after it started filming, Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast was finally released in cinemas this week. By the very high standards which Disney have set for themselves, its Rotten Tomatoes score of 71% Fresh is a bit of a disappointment (The original Beauty and the Beast has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93% Fresh), but it has made an impressive $63.78 million on its opening day in the USA alone, demonstrating that it is yet another major hit for Disney...

Due to the iconic status of the original (the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture) and the all-star cast (led by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens), this version of Beauty and the Beast has arrived in a blaze of publicity. In this blog post, I will provide a set of 28 articles about the live-action remake, which range from interviews with the cast and crew to discussions of the original movie's legacy and the some of the controversies surrounding this retelling.

The Legacy of the Original 

Inevitably, the publicity surrounding the remake has led to increased focus on the original animated version from 1991. These articles provide information on how it was made and how it became one of Disney's best-loved films. They demonstrate that the remake is under a lot of pressure to live up to the high standards set by the original Beauty and the Beast...

Beauty and the Beast: Angela Lansbury On Film's Legacy, Live-Action Reboot - Whilst many people are incredibly excited about the prospect of a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, others have argued that the enduring popularity of the original makes a new version unnecessary. Among those who have expressed the latter view is Angela Lansbury, the iconic actress who voiced talking teapot Mrs. Potts in the original film. In an interview last year to mark the 25th anniversary of the animated version, she claimed that  "I don’t quite know why they’re doing it. I can’t understand what they’re going to do with it that will be better than what we’ve already done". Lansbury also talks about what it was like to be involved in the 1991 film, and its popularity amongst children. Her comments highlight how hard it will be for the remake to emulate the quality of the "extraordinary and special" original.

Beauty and the Beast: The Tales Behind the Tunes - The live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast will feature all six of the songs from the original, including "Belle", "Be Our Guest" and the Oscar-winning title song. In this article, Alan Menken, who composed these songs, provides some information on how they were made, with some interesting tales about how he sent the wrong demo of "Beauty and the Beast" to Angela Lansbury, and how lyricist Howard Ashman was reluctant to hand over a version of "Belle" to Disney execs in the belief that they would not accept a "seven-minute opening number".

How One Gay Man's Battle With AIDS Shaped Disney's‘Beauty and the Beast’ - In an interview with the LGBTQ+ magazine Attitude, Bill Condon, the openly gay director of the live-action remake, discusses how Howard Ashman's battle with HIV/AIDS (he died of the disease in March 1991) shaped the original film and its portrayal of the Beast . He also mentions how the macho villain Gaston was based on people who Ashman referred to as "trade" (i.e. masculine and primarily straight males secretly involved in relationships with gay man). If there is one person who did more than anyone else to bring Beauty and the Beast to life, it is Howard Ashman, so it's great to see him get recognised for his contributions to Disney history.

How We Made Beauty and the Beast - In this article from The Guardian, Linda Woolverton, who wrote the screenplay for the original Beauty and the Beast, and Alan Menken discuss their experiences working on the original.Woolverton explains how she tried to make Belle a strong feminist role model, in spite of resistance from some Disney execs, whilst Menken provides some fascinating anecdotes about working with the legendary Howard Ashman.

Original Belle Gives Thumbs-Up to Emma Watson in 'Beauty and the Beast'  - Although Angela Lansbury has been sceptical about the live-action remake, Paige O'Hara, who voiced Belle in the original movie, has been more enthusiastic. In September last year, O'Hara took part in a USA Today interview with Robby Benson (who voiced the Beast) and Richard White (who voiced Gaston), where she endorsed the casting of Emma Watson as Belle. In addition, she stated that "there's always going to be room in history for both of these versions". 

This Beauty and the Beast Art Show Is, Well, Beautiful - The Californian art gallery Gallery Nucleus has a history of providing Disney-themed exhibitions. To coincide with the release of Beauty and the Beast, they are putting on an exhibition consisting of 40 artworks themed around the the movie, which runs until the start of April. Some of these pieces are shown in this Gizmodo article, and they are very impressive, capturing the magic and wonder of the story which inspired them.

The Stars 

One of the major selling points of the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast is the all-star cast, including Emma Watson (the Harry Potter series), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), Luke Evans (Fast and Furious 7), Josh Gad (Frozen), Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!), Sir Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) and Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda). These actors, in particular the lead trio of Watson, Stevens and Evans, have provided plenty of interviews to promote the film and get their fans to see it...

Beauty and the Beast: 5 Juicy Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from the Cast - In a talk with Vanity Fair to coincide with the movie's premiere, the four main stars of Beauty and the Beast (Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad) provide some interesting secrets from behind the scenes. Emma Watson and Josh Gad discuss the movie's timely messages about being yourself and not judging a book by its cover, whilst Stevens talks about wearing stilts to play the Beast, and Evans reveals how he prepared for his role as Gaston.

Beauty and the Beast: Emma Watson Addresses Questions Over Beast Relationship - Famous for playing the brainy Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, Emma Watson, who plays Belle, is probably the person who has featured the most in the remake's publicity campaign. Here, she responds to the common claim that Belle suffers from "Stockholm Syndrome" when she falls in love with the Beast. "Watson argues that, in this version, Belle "keeps that freedom of thought" throughout, and her relationship with the Beast is based on the gradual realisation that they "bring out the best" in each other. She regards Belle's relationship with the Beast, which is more realistic than the traditional Disney romance, as one of the movie's major selling points.

'Citizen Kane' Inspired Dan Stevens for 'Beauty and the Beast' - The Beast is played by Dan Stevens, star of the hit TV shows Downton Abbey and Legion. In this Times of India article, he points out that the film will show more of the Beast's life before he got cursed, and talks about watching a wide range of movies, including Wreck-It Ralph and Citizen Kane, in order to get inspiration for his role. 

Emma Watson On Why Beauty And The Beast’s Belle ‘breaks the mould’ of Disney princesses - Here is another article featuring Emma Watson, as she explains why Belle is not your typical Disney princess. She points out that Belle was the first Disney princess created by a woman (Linda Woolverton), and highlights her desire to challenge the status quo and seek out something greater. 

Emma Watson Reveals the Deeper Message in 'Beauty and the Beast' - Like Hermione Granger, one of Belle's defining traits is her love of reading. According to Emma Watson, this will be an integral aspect of the live-action remake, as Belle's "passion for books" is one of the most important things that she has in common with the Beast. She notes that books "have the ability to change your life and your outlook", and points out that up to 80 million girls around the world are prohibited from going to school based on their gender. Watson is a very passionate advocate of women's rights (she recently distributing free copies of feminist books on the London Underground), and she hopes that Beauty and the Beast will inspire further interest in the issue of Women's Education, thus encouraging demands for greater equality. 

How Dan Stevens Went From Disney Prince to Comic Book Legend - Five years after he quit Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens has returned to prominence with his roles in Beauty and the Beast and the superhero TV show Legion. Although this article from Backstage predominantly focuses on Legion, Stevens discusses working with Emma Watson, and talks about some of the special effects used to bring the Beast to life.

Luke Evans On Becoming Gaston For 'Beauty And The Beast' - The third lead in Beauty and the Beast is the Welsh actor Luke Evans, who plays the movie's egocentric and self-aggrandizing villain, Gaston. In this interview with Harper's Bazaar, Evans talks about what it was like playing Gaston, his experiences working with Josh Gad, (who plays Gaston's sidekick LeFou), and the risk of being typecast as overly macho antagonists.

Luke Evans Explains the Backstory for His Gaston in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ - One of the things which will mark this version of Beauty and the Beast out from the original is the increased focus on backstory, with flashbacks depicting Belle's childhood and explaining why the Beast was cursed. Even Gaston is getting a backstory, with Luke Evans explaining that his celebrity status within Belle's village is based on his past as a war hero. He also points out that what makes Gaston such an unnerving villain is his realistic nature, as he is "an arrogant, narcissistic, bigoted, chauvinistic, self-absorbed man" willing to resort to violence when he doesn't get his way. (Does this remind you of anyone?)

Stanley Tucci: Beauty And The Beast Challenges Views on Race as Well as Gender - Aside from the three leads, the supporting cast of Beauty and the Beast have plenty to say about the film as well. The Oscar-nominated actor Stanley Tucci plays Maestro Cadenza, a character specially created for this remake. He praises the fact that there are two interracial couples in the Beast's staff (Cadenza and Madame Garderobe, and Lumiere and Plumette), and expresses his hope that this will normalise interracial relationships, which are still relatively rare in the USA. 

Behind the Scenes

For all the media focus on the actors, the people working behind the scenes are arguably even more important. They range from reasonably well-known figures such as director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) and composer Alan Menken (Aladdin), to various set designers and special effects experts who gave the live-action remake its distinctive look.

Alan Menken and the Musical Legacy of Beauty and the Beast - Here is another interview of Alan Menken, this one provided by Den of Geek. In it, Menken reveals that he updated the score in order to the add a greater "sense of reality" to the live-action remake, conveying the feel of the movie's setting (France in the mid-18th century). He also looks at the differences between the live-action remake and the stage version of Beauty and the Beast (which ran on Broadway for 13 years) and mentions that almost all the cast members (with the exception of the two leads- Emma Watson and Dan Stevens) have experience performing in musicals.

‘Beauty and the Beast’: Disney’s $300 Million Gamble -  In this article, The New York Times provide a look at the risks involved in remaking Beauty and the Beast in live-action. They examine some of the changes made by the new version, including a controversial new look for Mrs. Potts, and the innovations used in an attempt to update a story which many fans know "chapter and verse".

Bill Condon on Beauty and the Beast, His Musical Influences, and Lindsay Lohan’s Plan for The Little Mermaid - This article from Vulture features Beauty and the Beast's director, Bill Condon, talking about how he transferred the tale into live action, the influence of Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et La Bete, and the "overblown" controversy surrounding LeFou's "gay moment". He also gets to give his opinion on Lindsay Lohan's request that he should direct a live-action remake of Disney's The Little Mermaid in which she gets to play Ariel.

Exclusive: Celine Dion Opens Up About Singing New Song for 'Beauty and the Beast' 26 Years After the Original - In 1991, the iconic diva Celine Dion participated in the original Beauty and the Beast, singing a version of the eponymous song over the end credits. In the live-action remake, she will return to sing a new song called "How Does A Moment Last Forever?". Talking to Entertainment Tonight, she reveals how much she loved the original movie, and why she chose to sign up for the latest version.

How Long Has The Prince Been Cursed In The New Beauty And The Beast? Dan Stevens And Bill Condon Weigh In - The live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is about 40 minutes longer than the animated version, which gives the film extra time to explore the issues which the original didn't have the time to examine. A couple of notable question left by the animated version are: how old the Beast was when he was cursed, and how long has he been in his current monstrous form? Dan Stevens and Bill Condon attempt to provide CinemaBlend with the answers, but their comments are pretty vague, with Condon claiming that the amount of time the Beast was bewitched is something which should be left for the fans to speculate.

Making the Magic of Beauty and the Beast Real - In this promotional article published in The Daily Telegraph, we get a sense of how much effort went into making this version of Beauty and the Beast look as epic as possible. 27 massive physical sets were constructed at Shepperton Studios, and director Bill Condon and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler used the latest technology in order to highlight how incredible these locations are. There is also information on how advanced motion-capture was used in order to bring the Beast to life, with Dan Stevens having to shoot scenes twice in order to capture his body movement and facial expressions in as much detail as possible.

Pittsburgh Native Chbosky Puts His Spin On 'Beauty and the Beast' - Stephen Chobsky, who previously wrote the screenplay for (and directed) Emma Watson's 2012 movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, co-wrote the screenplay for the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast with Evan Spiliotopoulos. In this interview with Pittsburgh news website Trib Live, he explains that "I just wanted to write a fairytale for my daughter". He also explains how he tried to update Linda Woolverton's script for the animated film by adding "new characters and relationships", and discusses the creation of a new song for the movie called "For Evermore", written by the iconic lyricist Sir Tim Rice.

See the Concept Art that Brought the Beautiful Scenery of Beauty and the Beast to Life - A lot of effort went into creating the locations featured in the live-action remake, in order to give them a distinct and epic feel. Here, OhMyDisney show off some of the spectacular concept art used to bring a number important settings to life, including Belle's home and the Beast's library...

Take A Look Inside the Creation of the Ballroom for Beauty and the Beast - One of the central locations in the live-action remake is the Beast's ballroom. OhMyDisney have provided a number of snapshots which show just how spectacular this location is, even when it falls into a state of disrepair after the Beast gets cursed...

Controversies 

For all the excitement surrounding Beauty and the Beast, there have been a couple of controversies surrounding the project. Most notably, Bill Condon stated that LeFou would have the first ever "exclusively gay moment" in a Disney film, leading to a depressing homophobic backlash. Another notable incident involved a lesson plan which attacked the original film's portrayal of Belle. Both were blown way out of proportion, but highlight the fact that Beauty and the Beast's giant fan-base includes some very vocal and reactionary viewers.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast Remake Shouldn't Have A Tokenistic Gay Romance – the Main Characters Should Be Gay -  Not all the criticism of the decision to make LeFou gay has been homophobic in nature. In fact, many commentators have expressed disappointment that "Disney's first gay character" is merely a "slimy, sycophantic villain's sidekick". This editorial in The Independent argues that, in honour of Howard Ashman's battle with HIV/AIDS, Beauty and the Beast should go much further in representing the LGBTQ+ community, with a gay Beast and a male Beauty. Although there are some flaws with this argument (for example, there is a reference to the animated version of Beauty and the Beast as "the original Beauty and the Beast story", which ignores the fact that the first published version of the tale came roughly 250 years earlier), it is certainly true that LGBTQ+ narratives should be allowed greater prominence after centuries of being excluded from mainstream society. In addition, given that it is traditionally regarded as a hetrosexual love story, it would be interesting to see a version of Beauty and the Beast centered around a gay couple.

Does Disney’s ‘Beauty And The Beast’ Glamorize Domestic Violence? - In November, around the time that the first full trailer for the live-action remake was released, there was some controversy in the UK press about a lesson plan written by a teacher which suggested that the film condoned domestic abuse, due to the Beast's initial harsh treatment of Belle. Here, Hollywood.Com point out the reasons why this claim is incorrect (For starters, the villainous Gaston is a much more extreme example of a domestic abuser than the ultimately kindhearted Beast), but their article concludes by sensibly stating "it’s just a Disney movie, and everyone is really reading too much into it."

Everyone Is Making the Same Joke About the Backlash to the Gay Character in "Beauty and the Beast" - Although LeFou's "gay moment" is apparently completely innocuous, it has led to some cinemas refusing to show the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, and the film receiving a 16+ (adults only) rating in Russia. Many commentators on Twitter have made fun of this overreaction, and this article from Seventeen collects a number of tweets, including one from the YouTube personality Tyler Oakley, which argue that it's ridiculous to get worked up about a "blink and you'll miss it" moment involving a side character whilst overlooking the fact that Beauty and the Beast is a film "about a girl who falls in love with a buffalo". The allegations that Beauty and the Beast promotes bestiality are ludicrous for a number of reasons, but then so are the claims that LeFou's subplot represents a form of "gay propaganda"... 

Pupils Taught Disney Fairy Tales Promote Sexism and Domestic Violence in Online Lesson Plan - In contrast to Hollywood.com, some British commentators were less polite about the allegations that Beauty and the Beast was excusing domestic abuse. One Conservative politician called the lesson plan making this allegation "politically correct claptrap" and accused it of "brainwashing" children, whilst the head of the right-wing pressure group Campaign for Real Education described it as "an ignorant, insidious and covert attack on family values and on the ancient wisdom of fairy tales." Claims that criticism of Disney movies represents a threat to society are pretty extreme, but they highlight the way in which films like Beauty and the Beast have become the definition of wholesome, family-friendly entertainment.

Summary 

All the articles above highlight the fact that it will be incredibly difficult for the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast to become as iconic as the original movie, and it will be very hard to expand the story whilst pleasing a fanbase who can become incredibly hostile to trivial changes and criticisms. However, the interviews and articles about the making of the new version also demonstrate that the people involved in bringing this version to life have put an immense amount of effort into ensuring that this retelling will be worth seeing. Even if it cannot match the original, the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast will probably still be a spectacular and entertaining movie which all the family can enjoy.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Nostalgia Critic Vs. Lindsay Ellis: Duelling Editorials on the Decline of the Disney Villain

(Note: This article contains spoilers for Moana. It also discusses plot twists from some recent Disney films. It can be assumed that anyone who reads this has seen the likes of Frozen and Zootropolis, and knows what happens, but if you don’t, tread carefully…)

The rise of the internet has led to the emergence of a number of intelligent and insightful online film critics. One of the most prominent is Doug Walker, better known as The Nostalgia Critic. Last week, he published a video called “What Happened to Great Disney Villains?” on the online reviewing website Channel Awesome. The video features him explaining why he thinks that the Disney villains of today are not up to the standard of the scene-stealing baddies which they provided in the past. By sheer coincidence, Lindsay Ellis, a former reviewer on Channel Awesome (Where she was known as The Nostalgia Chick) simultaneously released an editorial on the same subject, called “Are Disney Villains Going Extinct?” Both videos are can be viewed below:

 


 

Both The Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis are passionate Disney fans. Since 2011, The Nostalgia Critic has provided an annual event called ‘Disneycember’, where he spends the whole of December reviewing Disney films. Meanwhile, Elis has discussed a number of Disney-related subjects, ranging from their direct-to-video sequels to their duels with rival animation studio Dreamworks. The two videos are interesting and insightful, but how do they convey their arguments and which of them is better?

What Makes a Great Disney Villain?



Both The Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis argue that the older Disney villains are superior to the ones they have provided in recent years, with The Nostalgia Critic claiming that Disney has not had a true “scene stealer” of a villain since Hades from Hercules, which was released almost 20 years ago. The Nostalgia Critic believes that the Disney villains of the past were iconic due to their strong and distinctive personalities. He notes that a colourful baddie provides a truly formidable obstacle for our heroes, and when their plans get thwarted, it makes the ending all the happier.  However, he believes that Modern Disney villains are merely “serviceable”. They advance the story and provide good messages (for example, in Frozen, Hans’ scheming nature highlights the fact that not all Princes are as perfect as they seem), but they are not “deliciously despicable” enough to stand alongside the likes of Ursula and Maleficent. Overall, The Nostalgia Critic believes that Disney’s best villains are able to fire up our emotions in a way which modern ones cannot.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Ellis highlights how the best Disney villains can be both evil and enjoyable at the same time. This is especially apparent in a comedic section where she tries to downplay and justify the vile deeds of several Disney Renaissance villains. However, she places particular focus on the way in which the Disney villains have become a brand of their own, taking centre stage in films like Maleficent, the TV movie Descendants and the Disneyland attraction Club Villain. The Disney villains also appear in a lot of merchandise, and Ellis shows a collection of novelty pins themed around villains such as Hades and Professor Ratigan. However, she believes that it not easy to make recent Disney villains as iconic, claiming that pins of Mother Gothel are not as popular as pins showing older villains. Ellis acknowledges that Tamatoa, the flamboyant giant crab from Moana, is the nearest Disney have got to the classic villain template since 2010, but his role in the film is too small for him to have enough impact. Both videos have different, but interesting ways of explaining why Disney villains are so popular. Whilst The Nostalgia Critic focuses on the emotional appeal of the characters, Lindsay Ellis looks at their status as a brand. However, the early Disney villains would not have become so iconic if they weren’t so memorable, and both The Nostalgia Critic and Ellis agree that the newest additions to Disney’s rogues gallery do not stand out enough to attain the same status.

Identity Crisis



Both Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis acknowledge that more recent Disney films have focused primarily on protagonists struggling to find their own identity. The villains they face need to reflect this in some way, making them harder to write. In addition, as princesses and even princes became more developed, with interesting and distinctive leads such as Ariel, Anna, Aladdin and Flynn Rider taking centre stage, the screen-time for the villain steadily declined.

Though The Nostalgia Critic discusses this, it is a central point in Lindsay Ellis’ video. She notes that after The Little Mermaid, the search for identity became a consistent feature of Disney’s films. This meant that the internal struggles of characters like Ariel, Belle and Simba were as important as external conflicts. Some Disney Renaissance villains, such as Scar and Frollo, had a significant effect on the protagonist’s internal struggles, by exploiting and exacerbating their insecurities. However, many recent villains, such as Hades, Ratcliffe and Dr. Facilier, primarily provided external conflict, and lacked any deeper connection to the struggles of heroes like Hercules and Tiana. This meant that, whilst they were usually very fun to watch, they did not have the power over the protagonist they needed to feel like a true threat. Ellis believes many Disney Renaissance villains existed just so Disney could have an antagonist who could sell merchandise. Overall, one of the best aspects of Ellis’ video is her discussion of the manner in which the growing focus on big issues and internal conflict has made it harder to incorporate an old-fashioned villain into a Disney film in a satisfying way.

Changing Tastes




The Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis are both aware that traditional good vs. evil storylines have fallen out of fashion in recent years. The Nostalgia Critic notes that animated films are no longer a novelty, so they are now judged on the quality of the characters rather than the beauty of the animation.  This has forced Disney to develop their leads a bit more, and they have been forced to alter their villains in order to emphasise the fact that the most interesting antagonists are not born, but made. In fact, some Disney movies (such as Pixar films Inside Out and Finding Dory) have featured no villains whatsoever. The Nostalgia Critic believes that the demand for more complex characters has led to the decline of conventional villains like Maleficent who simply represent a “grand evil”. He links Disney’s current trend for “unknown villains” to the demand for more realistic enemies, although he notes that Wreck-it-Ralph and Frozen were not the first Disney films to use that trope (The Nostalgia Critic claims that Disney have used “unknown villains” in films such as Tarzan and Treasure Planet, in addition to many Pixar films). However, The Nostalgia Critic believes the people behind Disney films have primarily focused on making the heroes and heroines more appealing and relatable, leaving less for the villains to do.

Lindsay Ellis also looks at the audience demand for more developed protagonists. She also acknowledges that whilst early Disney films such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty had very passive female leads with few goals, more recent female protagonists have been strong, independent and not tied down to a love interest. Male leads have become more interesting as well, and recent Disney films, such as Zootropolis and Moana, have primarily focused on the interactions between two protagonists. Audiences seek new and unique takes on familiar characters and stories, hence Disney’s frequent use of “meta” comedy in recent movies, as they poke fun at Disney clich├ęs on several occasions. This subversive approach has also fuelled the handling of villains, as Disney try to play around with the moral certainties traditionally associated with them. One example of this comes in Moana, where the seemingly evil lava monster Te Ka turns out to actually be a benevolent goddess affected by a curse.

Ellis also notes that the demand for more complex villains has affected existing Disney villains as well as new ones. Disney’s live-action remakes have tried to make the classic villains more developed, with the 2014 film Maleficent (a film which The Nostalgia Critic strongly dislikes) depicting a character who was the “mistress of all evil” in the original film as a tragic figure. Other live-action remakes, such as Cinderella and The Jungle Book, have given their villains a bit of backstory to show that they are motivated by more than simple malice. Sometimes, a conventionally evil villain can undermine a film, a problem which Ellis invokes when she discusses Pocahontas, claiming that the film’s use of a single villain meant that it sanitised the intolerance and violence depicted in it by primarily linking it to a single person. Both videos get across the fact that Disney’s success has been based on their ability at responding to audiences who demand more sophisticated entertainment and stronger protagonists. This is great, but has the side effect of causing the uninhibited evil of classic Disney villains to become less relevant and fall out of fashion.

Gaston Vs. Hans




Central to both videos is the perception that Disney have relied too much on “unknown villains” in recent years, with films like Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootropolis containing seemingly friendly characters who turn out to be evil. The Nostalgia Critic believes that one of the major problems with “unknown villains” is that the fact that viewers have to be “re-introduced” to them when their villainy is revealed. In order to highlight this, he compares the most notable “unknown villain”, Hans, with another scheming suitor from the Disney Animated Canon, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. The Nostalgia Critic argues that Gaston is a better villain because he has the same egotistical and colourful personality throughout the film, and his goal of gaining Belle for himself remains constant throughout, even as he resorts to attempting blackmail and murder in order to attain it. This fixed characterisation is highlighted by the voice acting, as Gaston always sounds like the same character, even when his behaviour becomes more extreme. Meanwhile, the giddy energy which Hans displays in “Love is an Open Door”, his romantic duet with Anna early in the film, is contrasted with the coolly villainous tone he uses when revealing his true colours to her. This shows that the dissonance between his initial personality and his behaviour in the climax is too great for him to feel like a properly developed villain.

Lindsay Ellis also compares Hans to Gaston in order to show why Gaston is a stronger villain. She notes that Gaston’s villainy is made clear from the start, as he is introduced hunting animals with his face in shadow. Meanwhile, Hans shows few conspicuous signs of villainy until he tells Anna “If only there was someone out there who loved you”. In contrast to The Nostalgia Critic, Ellis does not elaborate on this point, but judging by her cynical and sarcastic delivery when discussing Hans, she’s not a fan of the twist. She adds that Elsa was supposed to be the villain at first, but was changed into a heroic character in order to appeal to female audiences. Based on this it’s clear that Ellis believes that Hans turned out to be evil for shock value. The director of Frozen, Jennifer Lee, has confirmed that Hans’ personality shifts were deliberate (Frozen is based on The Snow Queen, where an evil mirror plays a key role in the story so, in a subtle reference to this, Hans was designed to change his personality to mirror others), but they still validate the argument made in both videos that he’s a plot device lacking in depth. Both videos use the comparison between Hans and Gaston to highlight the problem with “unknown villains”, as the decision to use their true nature as a plot twist means that we can’t enjoy their villainy properly, and they are reduced to being mere “nuisances”.

Other Differences


Although both videos have the same subject and tackle the same themes, there are a number of differences between them. For example, whilst Lindsay Ellis looks solely at Disney animated movies, The Nostalgia Critic also examines Pixar movies such as Monsters Inc., Up and the Toy Story sequels, due to their use of “unknown villains”. However, he doesn’t mention the fact that John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar, also became the chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006, and doesn’t link Lasseter’s love of the “unknown villain” trope with its recent overuse in Disney films. This ensures that he does not provide any insights into the similarities and differences between the approaches of Disney and Pixar. The Nostalgia Critic's most detailed examination of Pixar villains is when he compares Sid from Toy Story and Stinky Pete the Prospector from Toy Story 2 in the exact same way he compares Gaston and Hans. This is interesting, but a little superfluous, and it’s disappointing that The Nostalgia Critic did not take full advantage of the wider range of films he is talking about.

However, the primary difference between the videos provided by The Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis is their reviewing style. The Nostalgia Critic has the more eloquent and serious approach, talking directly to the camera whilst relevant clips and images are shown. Done badly, this style can be pretty boring, but The Nostalgia Critic is an excellent speaker with plenty of great insights, so he is able to pull it off.

In contrast, Lindsay Ellis has a more relaxed and comedic style, as she shows off her Disney merchandise and makes several jokes about the Disney films she discusses. Particularly amusing is her dig at the portrayal of Ratcliffe in Pocahontas. When she complains about the way in which defeating him seems to bring peace between the settlers and natives, a title card flashes with the message “colonialism solved”, highlighting her point. However, there are times when the humour is a distraction, as a number of interesting observations are left underdeveloped in order for Ellis to talk about Disney villain pins.

Conclusion

Overall, both videos are worth watching, as The Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis are very engaging and intelligent commentators with appealing review styles, and provide plenty of interesting observations on how Disney’s portrayal of villains has changed over time. Ultimately, the one from The Nostalgia Critic is probably better, as it’s made in a more professional manner, and provides a greater number of insights into why the older Disney villains are so iconic.

However, regardless of which video you like best, both The Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis highlight the fact that, as excellent as the Disney Revival movies are, they have yet to produce a villain who will be a true icon like Cruella De Vil, Ursula and Jafar. Whilst recent baddies such as Mother Gothel and Hans have plenty of fans who admire their more realistic characterisation and the subtle little details used to highlight their cold-hearted nature, there will always be a place in our hearts for the wonderfully uninhibited and colourful (yet still scary) villains which Disney used to provide, who, in the words of The Nostalgia Critic, “did their best to give us their worst”. Although it’s easy to understand why Disney have stopped using traditional villains, we hope that they will eventually provide the great villain which Disney fans have been waiting for without losing sight of the strong messages, interesting storylines and relatable protagonists which have fuelled their recent run of form.