Beauty and the Beast (2017)

  • Time: 123 min
  • Genre: Family | Fantasy | Musical
  • Director: Bill Condon
  • Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor

Storyline:

Disney’s animated classic takes on a new form, with a widened mythology and an all-star cast. A young prince, imprisoned in the form of a beast, can be freed only by true love. What may be his only opportunity arrives when he meets Belle, the only human girl to ever visit the castle since it was enchanted.

2 reviews

  • Most remakes, adaptations and updates are superfluous by nature and Disney’s $160 million live-action re-staging of its 1991 animated classic feels more unnecessary than most. On paper, it’s a savvy move by the venerable company to expand on its brand and reintroduce one of its most beloved crown jewels to a whole new generation of consumers. No doubt, this Beauty and the Beast will nicely fill Disney’s coffers, but the inherent problem of this particular re-telling lies in the lyric of its title song.

    This is “a tale as old as time” and if there’s nothing especially done to improve upon the 1991 version, then why bother doing it at all except as a cash grab? Shedding light on the Beast’s origin story, explaining what happened to Belle’s mother, the addition of three new songs specifically written for the film by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, and “the first exclusively gay moment in a Disney film” as director Bill Condon has promoted do not justify the reason for this version’s existence. If anything, these additions don’t add anything of significance except more time to an already bloated film. Furthermore, to say gay characters or moments have never existed in a Disney film is beyond ludicrous; stating it explicitly feels more like pandering or straining too hard to be politically and socially relevant.

    At least the 1991 version had the good sense to reimagine the classic story by cribbing almost everything from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 gem and making it an animated musical. Condon’s version is basically a shot for shot remake of the 1991 film, and it comes up sorely lacking. Curiously, this Beauty and the Beast feels as if it’s been shot on sound stages. Even Belle’s opening number, which culminates in Emma Watson resurrecting memories of Julie Andrews joyfully singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” is curiously flat and artificial. Whilst Watson makes for a passable Belle but one can’t quite shake the feeling that her portrayal is more a reflection of her off-screen image than any actual characterisation that she brings to it. On the other hand, Andrews (and even Amy Adams, as she gloriously proved in Enchanted) would have made for a perfect Belle had someone had the good sense to do a live-action version during her heyday.

    At least Watson isn’t in the same situation as Dan Stevens, who spends about 95% of his screen time behind layers of make-up enhanced by special effects. Stevens is a fine actor but, unlike John Hurt in The Elephant Man and Eric Stoltz in Mask, his performance isn’t skilled enough to overcome the prosthetics. The central story may be of a prince cursed to remain a beast until someone loves him for who he truly is, but the film only flickers to life when focus is on the supporting characters. Luke Evans reveals a wonderfully rich baritone and slyly self-aware humour as the vainglorious Gaston. Josh Gad, carrying the rainbow flag for Disney, is an absolute delight. Their performance of “Gaston” may be the film’s undisputed high point.

    Elsewhere, there’s excellent vocal work, both spoken and sung, by the likes of Ewan McGregor (Lumière, a candelabra), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth, a clock), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts, a teapot), Stanley Tucci (Cadenza, a piano), Audra McDonald (Garderobe, wardrobe), and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Babette, a feather duster). If anything, one is more invested in their fates than the Beast’s, which is never a good sign. Kevin Kline, as Belle’s father, is criminally underused.

    The production is undeniably lavish, but the breathtaking moments are few, if any. Even Belle’s appearance in her iconic yellow ballgown borderlines on ho-hum, especially when compared with Lily James’ heart-stopping entrance in the far more entertaining live-action execution of Cinderella.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5 )

    GRADE: B-

    THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: A second-hand knock-off that rarely touches the original’s beauty.

    SYNOPSIS: Just that…beauty meets her beast.

    RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs, 9 mins.  
     
    JIM’S REVIEW: The Hollywood Remake. A strange breed of movie it is. It is not a sequel adding more to an already told tale, It’s more like a parasite leeching onto someone else’s ideas and crediting themselves with all of the glory. Those who loved the original will look upon this new attempt with disdain, those who disliked the predecessor will question the filmmaker’s motives. Is it pure folly or a creative need to improve upon the mistakes of others? Most recent remakes seem to be financial quests for more $$$, cashing in on the known product and its glowing reputation. Whatever the reason, all are hoping the film will be rediscovered by a new audience and make a profitable return. But usually, these half-breeds are merely foolhardy endeavors which meet with strong negative reactions from critics and moviegoers alike. Let me digress a bit…

    Some past examples have worked well (3:10 to Yuma, The Birdcage, Cape Fear, Carrie, Insomnia, Scarface); most have not (Breathless, Psycho, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Magnificent Seven, Poltergeist, Ghostbusters, Straw Dogs, Alfie, and Sabrina, come to mind). Some films change their names to disguise their origins with mixed results: (These Three became The Children’s Hour; Internal Affairs is now The Departed, Rear Window is Disturbia; Yojimbo turns into A Fistful of Dollars, Death Takes A Holiday = Meet Joe Black; The Women becomes The Opposite Sex, You’ve Got Mail is the offspring of The Shop Around the Corner, to mention a few). Rarely do films improve upon their original source: A Star is Born (1934) begot its best version in 1954, only to fail again in 1976; Heaven Can Wait (1978) was a perfectly matched set for Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941); The Fly morphed from a campy monster movie into a taut thriller in its 1986 reincarnation. One big holdout still: Annie (1982, 1999, and especially the dreadful 2014 version) is still in need of repairs. Maybe, tomorrow…

    Which brings us to the latest entry, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Now the studio has pulled from its vaults one of the most honored movies of all times, a near-perfect masterwork and the only animated film ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. (Perhaps we should drop to our knees and give thanks that they do not own the rights to Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, Some Like It Hot, or many other film classics.)

    Beauty and the Beast (1991) has such a high pedigree and creates a daunting challenge to covert into a live action remake, even with all of the CGI state-of-the-art technology and artisans on board for this project. (It should be noted that this is not their first attempt to transform their animated film trove into live action movies. Cinderella, The Jungle Book (excellent), and Pete’s Dragon have all received kudos, but their beginnings were not from such worthy stock.)

    Which leaves us to wonder: Can one ever perfect the already perfect…Is there room for improvement upon such a skillful work of art? Director Bill Condon is at the helm of this project and the answer to his end result is decidedly a mixed blessing.

    Let me begin by saying that is much to admire in this re-imagining. Yet for every step forward, the film awkwardly takes two steps back: the nice mix of live action and CGI is more than serviceable yet hardly magical, the ensemble is well cast with some notable exceptions, production values are generally strong although proportions of the re-animated animated objects are inconsistent and vary in size from one scene to the next, and the glorious score by the talented team of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman remains relatively intact, with some additional new tunes added which do little to impress. (Except for one standard Broadway 11 o’clock number, Evermore, the additional tunes with lyrics by Tim Rice, are lackluster.)

    Also, on the minus side: Backstories have been written for some of the characters, but they serve more as filler and do little to advance the plot. The screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spilotopoulos has the basic plot handled successfully, but too many sub-plots muck up the works. The dialog has an overabundance of anachronisms than become almost as jarring in their dated pop culture references as Josh Gad’s odd interpretation in the role of a minor sidekick character, La Fou, which becomes a major misstep in such a sweet story. The actor chooses to perpetuate the gay effeminate stereotype in his overt “nance” mannerisms that is humorless and borderline offensive. He almost ruins the film as he takes this fairy tale far too literally and figuratively, as does Bill Condon’s direction.

    His direction seems haphazard and in need of restraint. (Oh, to ponder what Rob Marshall could have done with this project!) Mr. Condon often goes for the obvious slapstick and crass moments rather than enhancing the subtle charm and class of this classic love story. No more is this apparent than in his treatment of the film’s big production number, Be Our Guest. (In the original animated version, the film is aglow with vibrant colors, lovely linear renderings, and stunning hand-drawn details that make for a delightful and giddy moviegoing experience. Here, the moment is excessive, becoming a dizzying whirl of garish shapes and hyper-active movement that blurs the details of its imagery and exhausts rather than thrills. Other musical sequences lack proper staging and are more upstaged scenes that overwhelm the proceedings, The choreography seems non-existent. However, Mr. Condon does get the essential title number right in both setting a romantic mood and filling the screen with sumptuous detailing.

    Some of the actors are spot-on, while other are just spotty. Emma Watson as Belle, is fine in her acting, but her singing is wispy and thin. (Paging Marni Nixon!) Ms. Watson does share a lovely chemistry with Dan Steven’s Beast and the actor is very convincing in his angst under layers of make-up and special effects. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father is a treat as is Luke Evans, playing a leaner and meaner Gaston. He captures the menace and vanity of this perfect foil. More voiceovers than real supporting turns are provided by Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, and Ian McKellen, while Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Stanley Lucci, and Audra McDonald try to bring some degree of interest into their fussy characterizations. And let’s not even discuss the mincing of the aforementioned Mr. Gads any further…awful.

    That said, Beauty and the Beast (2017) still entertains and is a lovely diversion in its tale of unconditional love (even if there is a tad of bestiality in its underlying message). The celebrated music score is a lovely homage to the Broadway musicals of yore and its romantic story still enchants. I suppose, if one has never seen the superior 1991 film, I’m sure that what is on screen is all the more captivating.

    Russia said, “Nyet” to this remake due to censorship issues with homophobia. I said, “Meh” to this remake due to purely aesthetic reasons. This film, while no beast, is certainly no beauty either. Rent, or better yet, buy the original animated version and bask in its rare beauty. Sometimes tales as old as time really are…to say the least.

    NOTE: How about a remake of South Pacific without the color-coded musical interludes? Now that’s a reason for a remake!

    ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

    Visit my blog at: http://www.dearmoviegoer.com

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