Beauty and the Beast Review

First Word: I had the opportunity to see a prescreening of Beauty and the Beast. As I watched the film I became very disappointed in Disney. After building an incomparable reputation for groundbreaking animated adventures, Disney strives to find new life in their classic tales with live-action remakes like Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and now Beauty and the Beast. But where the previous remakes folded in modern sensibilities, modern perspectives and jaw-dropping CGI creatures to create lively re-imaginations of Disney classics, their latest is so brazenly beholden to the original cartoon. Heralded Dreamgirls director Bill Condon took a star-studded cast, a dizzying budget, and a tale as old as time, and instead of manifesting a magical remake, delivers a lackluster re-enactment.
Story/Synopsis: Set in a provincial 18th century French village, Beauty and the Beast follows a grinning bookworm named Belle (Emma Watson) as she rescues her loving father (Kevin Kline) from the clutches of a furious Beast (Dan Stevens). Beast lives in a cursed castle where his servants have been transformed into baubles, furniture, and flatware. Against all odds, this beautiful girl and her cantankerous captor connect over a love of literature and their misfit status, and form a bond that could free him from the shackles of an enchantress’s intense spell. However their potential bliss is challenged when arrogant  playboy Gaston (Luke Evans) sets his sites on marrying Belle and slaying the Beast. It’s the story you remember from Disney’s first adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy tale, but with a few decidedly darker flares, none of them welcomed. Even though some darker elements have been added to the script it is still unbelievably familiar. I have no idea how Steven Chbosky and Evan Spiliotoploulos are given the only screenwriting credits when a pervasive amount of the script is directly plucked from Linda Woolverton’s script in 1991. All too often, the songs work the same way, which works against cast members who aren’t professional singers, namely Watson. As she twirls through tunes like “Belle” and “Something There,” it’s impossible not to compare her earnest attempt — tweaked with all too obvious auto-tuning — to Paige O’Hara’s career defining performance. Making matters worse for Watson, she’s starring alongside living legends of Broadway, like six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald who plays an opera-belting wardrobe, and Josh Gad, who translated his quirky gravitas from Book of Mormon to Frozen’s chipper snowman, Olaf, and now to Gaston’s plucky (and openly gay) sidekick Le Fou. When these two sing, the soundtrack comes to vibrant life, reverberating through the movie theater as if you’ve been transported to Broadway’s most prestigious halls. And even Stevens manages a heart-swelling rendition of “Evermore,” a booming song pulled from the “Beauty and the Beast” Broadway show. Then, it’s awkward to hear Ewen McGregor’s poor imitation of the campy French accent Jerry Orbach memorably created for Lumiere, which makes the once-show stopping “Be Our Guest” feel more jarring than joyful.  7/10
Direction/Cinematography: You might think it’s unfair to compare the two films so rigorously, but Condon’s execution demands it, as he snatches not only dialogue, songs, and phrasing from the first film, but also costumes, staging and cinematography! Belle’s simple blue dress, her signature gold gown, even Gaston’s outfits and hairstyle are devotedly crafted like this is a cosplay competition. Then, there’s a plethora of scenes slavishly lensed shot-for-shot, recreating small moments. This is why I insist we call this not a remake but a re-enactment, because rather than attempting to do something new with something old, Condon forced real people into the charming skin of cartoon characters.  The movie begins to feel like Uncanny Valley, a realm where characters feel not real and yet not cartoon, and so make us inherently uncomfortable. Speaking of the Uncanny Valley, the Beast is a disaster. In design he resembles the animated version, brandishing horns, a sharp-toothed smile, flowing fur, hulking muscles, and legs like a wolf. But the visual effects team played down his once pronounced snout to make this Beast look more like a man suffering from hypertrichosis. This might be a clever nod to the true love story believed to have inspired the fairy tale (Google: Pretus Gonslavus), but the character never looks photo-real in the way of Jungle Book’s incredible detailed furry heroes. So the spell of suspension of disbelief is broken every time the shot lingers too long. And that’s a true shame, because Dan Steven’s performance–through grumbling growls and lashings out to awkward flirtations and graceful dancing–is captivating, even muddied by a confounding CGI. Having been a big fan of the “Beauty and the Beast” TV series from the 1980s that featured Ron Perlman in heavy, lion-like prosthetic make-up, I lament the rejection of the practical effects route here. 7/10
Characterization: Belle is underwhelming. Watson seems content to keep this Disney princess nice and lovely, never bothering to spark the part with the side-eye, smirks or sass that urged the cartoon character to boot Gaston from her home, or rage back against the Beast’s outbursts. Essentially, she missed out on the rebellious essence of the character. Without it, this hapless heroine feels less aspiring and exciting. As aforementioned Dan Stevens gives a great performance however at times it is hampered by the CGI. Strangely, the standout performance is Luke Evans as Gaston, who relishes every show-boating opportunity playing the volatile braggart. I admit, I was unimpressed when I’d seen the first images of the Welsh star in his “Beauty and the Beast” wardrobe. He seemed too puny to portray the barrel-chested brute who eats five-dozen eggs every morning, and every last inch of him is certainly not covered in hair. Yet Evans won me over, bounding about in big boots that should have been near impossible. He flashes a cocky smile, his eyes glint with dangerous fury, and just like that, he’s the vain villain we love to hate. His Gaston is mesmerizing and menacing, and a welcomed surprise amid so much safe repetition. 7/10
Conclusion: Granted, Beauty and the Beast had a greater challenge than Disney’s previous live-action re-adaptations. Its source animation was more recent, far more iconic, and better remembered than Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Jungle Book. Maybe Condon chose to give in to the nostalgia rather than challenge it with something brazenly new. But this surrender to repetition makes the film feel astonishingly unnecessary. When a filmmaker diligently recreates the frames of comic books in its movie adaptation, perhaps that’s being true to the art. Perhaps it’s fan service. But it still allows for innovation and invention in the motion that sets cinema apart from comics. However, when a director gruelingly recreates shots, staging and performances that have already been captured on film, well, that’s just Psycho (1998), an arguably interesting experiment, but one that feels like a wasted opportunity to take bolder gambles. This movie is definitely not a must watch.
Final Score: 7/10

3 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast Review

  1. I agree that it’s not must-see. The original so absolutely is that I did find myself regretting the decision to rehash it. That said, the soundtrack is still a joy and I found the film to be well cast – Evans has never been better

    Liked by 1 person

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