Attack by Wolves
by ELEANOR MORROW
Beauty and the Beast
dir. Bill Condon
Beast (Dan Stevens) looks like a vaguely unkempt man, the sort who sleeps on a couch. He is starved for female company, or any company at all to be completely honest. His bestial qualities are not many, basically he doesn’t use utensils or say please. In this reenactment of the 1991 film, the fantastic songs of Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman are supplemented by new music that adds about as much as Emma Watson does to the role of Belle.
Now 26, Watson’s girlish charm evaporated quickly. She is now a woman in middle age. “They think I’m strange in the village,” Belle informs Dan Stevens, who is looking at her like, is it really kind to compare our two situations? The only odd thing about Belle is that she always wears the same dress. Belle does not seem to understand the reason she is stared at is because of a man: specifically her father (Kevin Kline).
Kline’s role is rather thankless. The fact of his poor parenting makes substantially more sense in the Bill Condon version, since while an animated character pissing away her day reading books seems fine and dandy, Emma Watson doing the same is a less enviable life goal. Belle doesn’t want to marry Gaston (Luke Evans), which makes sense, since in this version Gaston is a decade her senior and Evans’ face implies he has had a hard life.
None of these actors can sing worth a shit outside of the specific ones that Condon has recruited for the purpose. Whoever is doing Watson’s vocals is particularly inept, making some of the numbers sound like the sea chantys you might hear from actual reenacters at a local seaport. The visual look of the film also suffers from this pseudo-realist aesthetic. Instead of giving us these characters reimagined in an actual society, the environments look staged and reduced from their original versions.
Stevens is a fine Beast to the extent that he makes voice acting into a character beneath the effects. Watson is particularly awful as Belle – perhaps because she has never actually been anguished or agonized in life, her method of showing any displeasure comes to simply pursing her lips as if she is suffering a mild ulcer. She never really touches Beast or invades his personal space at all. During the sequence where Beast is recovering from an attack by wolves she seems vaguely uncaring towards him, like the main method by which any human being relates to her is one of inconvenience.
Using magic, Beast takes her to Paris, where the power of imagination allows Watson to whine about her mother dying in the city. Thus she does not ever want to return to society. Instead of forcing her to change and adapt to the world, as the lyrics of the film’s signature song suggest Beast does, it adapts to her. In Beast’s immense library, he tells Belle that she can have it if she wants. What isn’t given to her? Given that theme, maybe the choice of Ms. Watson for the role does not seem so strange.
Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.