AEL: Fantastic Beasts again, The Mermaid’s Madness, Beauty and the Beast

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them again — It took a few weeks after this came out to get mom to watch it, but at least she finally did. She liked it pretty well, and had several of the same issues with it that I did.

Interestingly, I actually enjoyed this movie more the second time through. This is almost unprecedented, since mediocre movies tend to deteriorate in my experience of them, which is why I had to make notes about this one again. And I still think it’s just OK, and I still have all the same problems with it as before… but I guess coming into it with exactly those expectations made it easier to enjoy the thing despite its flaws. Interesting!

I forget whether I mentioned it last time (and I’m too lazy to look it up), but I really felt like we were done with these main characters. I kept seeing statements like, “I can’t wait to see more of Newt,” or, “It’ll be fun to see where these characters go from here,” and thought I must be missing something.

I don’t think I was — I think the people making such statements were just assuming — but an announcement subsequent to my second watch did confirm that future movies in this series will be about at least Newt and Tina if not all four of our friends from this first installment. I felt their story really wrapped up nicely, and the larger story seemed like it would be heading off into a new adventure without them. Evidently I was wrong.

Not that I’m really complaining. I love Newt. Aside from mentioning that, this time around, he was by far my favorite part of the movie, I can only reiterate what I said before: his kindness and devotion to his creatures is sweet and incredibly cute. Also that one deleted scene with the hydra-like animal (whatever it actually was) with the e-collar made me collapse laughing. Vet-tech-joke-high-five, fellow Hufflepuff!

The Mermaid’s Madness by Jim C. Hines — I feel like the physical events of this book are a bit meandering and largely unmemorable, but the emotional developments are poignant and definitely still with me from the last time I read it.

The ongoing tension between Talia and Snow in this installment — based, to all appearances, on an exacerbation of their usual squabbles by the situation with Beatrice but in reality partaking to some extent (perhaps quite a large one) of an exacerbation of Talia’s distress at Snow’s usual promiscuous behavior by the situation with Beatrice — is deliciously frustrating. And when Snow finds out, at long last, how Talia feels about her and doesn’t know how to deal with it, and kinda pushes it aside because she has other things to worry about just then… That’s some good drama right there.

Having two different characters in the same book sense Talia’s love for Snow and bring it up at random felt like overkill, and Hephyra’s instance in particular like Autobody-shopping. But I was glad to see Snow find out (especially given what that leads to in the final book), and I thought Morveren’s motivation for the revelation made a lot of sense.

Speaking of Hephyra, I wonder what it means that Jim wrote two series in a row with super-strong and particularly sexual dryads. It doesn’t bother me or anything… I’m just curious why it happened. Is he just so fond of super-strong, particularly sexual dryads that he wanted another one? Or was Hephyra a sort of prototype for Lena, and he felt he’d improved on the character model with the latter? Will we perhaps get a second evolution of the idea in Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse? :D

Oh, and something I wanted to mention about Snow… I love how she’s the TOTAL NERD of the group, and at the same time is the sexy and probably most sexually active one. It’s so nice to see a nerd girl portrayed that way! Just the lack of slut-shaming in the first place is marvelously refreshing, but in a world where the idiotic idea of “fake nerd girls trying to get guys’ attention” is a thing, it’s fantastic to see a legitimate nerd girl doing exactly what she wants and never needing to prove herself to anyone. Of course sometimes the men still doubt her, but she doesn’t need any validation from them.

Also speaking of Snow, the FUCKING FORESHADOWING. It was great in The Stepsister Scheme, and it’s even better here. I don’t know exactly how Jim works, or how many details of the entire series he had planned from the beginning, but it’s obvious he had some pretty clear ideas of what was going to happen with Snow in particular, and hinted at it liberally (but subtly) throughout the books prior to its actually happening.

Along those same lines, another thing he did exceptionally well — in this story that, of the four, has the least to do with the fairy folk — was keeping the awareness of them and their presence in the world fresh in our minds without making those matters obtrusive. Even while we’re dealing with undine and ocean drama far from and unrelated to Fairytown, we’re never allowed to forget those things. That way, when they become crucial again in the next couple of stories, we won’t have lost track of them at all.

Queen Bea’s position as a surrogate mother for the three princesses, and the growing sense of family among them all — some of it only really brought to light because it’s so direly threatened at this point — is another thing I love about this book. Friendship and love (of various types) among women — not to mention lack of cattiness or petty rivalry, especially in reference to men — will always be touching and wonderful to read about, and here I especially appreciate that it was written by a man.

In closing, I want to mention how entertaining I find it that Lannadae ends up married to her sister at the end and the humans just can’t deal with the concept XD I couldn’t quite figure out whether that scene meant to imply there’s sexual activity between the two, but it was still pretty awesome.

Beauty and the Beast — Overall, this version did very little for me that the previous versions (the animated film and the stage musical) didn’t do better. It didn’t feel entirely like a shameless cash-grab — I think a lot of heart went into it — but I still don’t know that it has any real reason to exist.

First the vocal performances: nobody stood out except Madame de Garderobe, who could have sung a lot more and made me happier. Everyone else was just OK except Belle, who was barely adequate with no personality or interest to her singing. (To be honest, much as I love Emma Watson, I didn’t even think her acting was particularly good.) And while I’ve never much fancied the sound of either Paige O’Hara’s voice or Susan Egan’s, they each gave the role some panache, which Emma Watson, unfortunately, did not.

Something that surprised me a little was that almost nobody ever harmonized with her, which is the oldest trick in the book (even older than Melodyne!) to cover up the failings of a substandard singer… but I suppose, because Belle is such a special snowflake that’s so ~different~ because she ~likes to read~ (ugh, sorry, I’m so so so tired of that trope), none of her lyrics really lend themselves to harmonizing with another character.

And that brings me to the musical selections, which is an aggravating sub-topic. Back when they announced they were making this movie, and confirmed it would be a musical unlike that dipshit superfluous Cinderella, a certain subset of fans (including me) started frothing in anticipation for maybe getting, essentially, a movie version of the Broadway musical. Then they announced they wouldn’t be including any songs from the stage version, and some of us were just flabbergasted.

If I Can’t Love Her is one of the best Poe-damned serious songs in Broadway history, and Me is definitely the best comedic one. Every other song that was added to the original lineup is great too: a whole show full of winners. Fans of the Broadway version couldn’t believe the moviemakers weren’t outright lying when they said they wouldn’t be using any of these brilliant and insightful songs.

And then they announced they would be writing different new songs for the movie, and left us scratching our heads even more. Passing up the best songs ever and striking out afresh? Lightning rarely strikes twice, guys.

And we were right. The only new piece worth mentioning here is Evermore — the rest are entirely forgettable — and even that song is painfully overshadowed by the memory of the far superior If I Can’t Love Her from the same character at the same point in the story.

Then they go and tease us mercilessly by using the melody of Home in the score, and by inserting one stanza of the stage lyrics of Gaston (Reprise) as a complete nonsequitor in this version’s Gaston. I seriously have no idea what they were thinking. A lot of poor choices all around.

Then as for the story… well, it was OK, I guess. Not as good as in the animated film, what with the cuts between story threads making it seem like Belle and the Beast had maybe two days to fall in love, the question of asshole enchantresses that think they’re justified in torturing entire households full of people for the social failings of one still not being addressed (there’s a reason the faery in my version is the villain!), and a shoehorned subplot about Belle’s mother detracting far more than it added (I believe in a failed attempt at creating a parallel with the beast’s mother’s death and giving him and Belle something more to connect over during their extremely brief courtship).

Characterization is OK mostly too. It was an interesting choice (and, for once, I think, not a bad one) to downplay Gaston’s buffoonery in favor of really hammering his evil, and that decision actually forces me, reluctantly as hell, to admit that Me would have been out of place in this version. He’s well done overall here.

And LeFou… Another aspect of this movie that had many of us scratching our heads was the choice to acknowledge and play up what seemed pretty obvious in the animated version — that LeFou is in love with Gaston — but to do it so subtly that it probably wouldn’t be noticed by non-allies unless they were specifically looking for it. How could this satisfy anyone, we wondered, when it wouldn’t count as good representation (thus disappointing the pro-LGBTQ+ folks) but would disturb and offend the homophobes? I was particularly leery of seeing a character originally intended as both a villain and comic relief portrayed as gay, and having it touted as some significant moment of progressive breakthrough for Disney.

And then… then LeFou’s story arc turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the movie, and LeFou himself possibly my favorite character. He’s just so damn cute and clever and likable. And his subplot is subtle, yes, but I think it’s an appropriate level of subtlety for a subplot — if narrow minds blink and miss it, I believe that’s due to their narrowness rather than to the moviemakers having deliberately hidden it.

It’s a delightful little story in that you can see how infatuated LeFou is and how much it frustrates him to be pouring emotion and time and effort into his relationship with Gaston and getting nothing but abuse in return — and then you get to watch him shrug off that influence, get out of that situation, and it’s soOoOo satisfying. And it might be troubling to see him switch sides after Gaston abandons him, implying that his decision was based entirely on being jilted, except that you’ve already seen him drawing away from Gaston for moral reasons totally unrelated to how he feels about him personally.

This LeFou is a gay character that goes through a moral revolution during the course of the film and ends up a good guy apparently confident in himself, his choices, and his sexuality. It’s often very obnoxious when the (evidently token) gay character finishes the story with no love interest — as what I’ve always called a Safe Gay Character — but in this case it didn’t bug me at all. LeFou is free of Gaston, seems to be secure within himself, and can now pursue love as he sees fit. I’m just really happy for him, and happy about his part in this movie.

Visually — the area that’s supposedly this version’s big selling point — I also found Beauty and the Beast mediocre. The camerawork was rarely anything interesting — the one exception being an almost Labyrinth-like scene in the castle tower — and some scenes that were supposed to be big and riotous and fun were just visually confusing (Be Our Guest in particular).

The enchanted object-people throughout the castle are monstrosities I wish I’d never been forced to look at, which I think is an odd choice when it’s the beast that’s supposed to be hideous, not his downtrodden servants. This beast, in fact, is just ridiculously handsome, with his comely fur and elegant horns, and far more attractive with a hairy face than with a human one. He was the only thing I really found visually intriguing, and then they had to go transform him at the end.

Speaking of which, the one place where I thought this version of the story really stands out and does well in contrast with its predecessors is in its ending. First of all, they really milked the drama of the objects going stiff and still and losing what little humanity they had left — that was a hard-hitting emotional impact I really appreciated. Then, after the transformation, the restoration of memory to and reunion with the townspeople was a wonderful, joyful contrast to the tragic scene that had just happened.

Though I have to mention that having Cogsworth in an unhappy marriage, being miserable at meeting his wife again, and playing that for humor is a JERK MOVE, screenwriters. NOT FUNNY. Also, I really didn’t appreciate the asshole enchantress showing up again at the end as if she hadn’t done anything wrong and was just checking on her project. Could we ever please abandon this weird angle on the story that suggests cursing people to live in unhappiness possibly forever — for whatever reason — is a justifiable, even benevolent thing to do??

So I’ll undoubtedly watch this movie again with mom when it’s available on Amazon, but after that probably never again. It just wasn’t worth my time. It definitely wasn’t worth the $24 I spent on what have become categorically insane ticket prices these days for me and brother to see in the theater.

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