Beauty and the Beast

A tale as old as time, and as depraved as bestiality. Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Academy Award winners Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson and Academy Award nominee Ian McKellen star in Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the BeastCast of Characters:
Belle – Emma Watson
The Prince / Beast – Dan Stevens
Gaston – Luke Evans
Maurice – Kevin Kline
LeFou – Josh Gad
Lumiere – Ewan McGregor
Maestro Cadenza – Stanley Tucci
Madame de Garderobe – Audra McDonald
Plumette – Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Chip – Nathan Mack
Cogsworth – Ian McKellen
Mrs. Potts – Emma Thompson

Director – Bill Condon
Screenplay – Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos
Based on the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Producer – David Hoberman & Todd Lieberman
Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images

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In France, on the night of his glorious debutante ball, a vain and haughty prince (Dan Stevens) has been cursed for his arrogant ways by an enchantress disguised by a lowly beggar. She transforms him into a hideous beast and turns his help in inanimate, albeit talking inanimate, objects. Leaving behind only a single rose, the now-turned beast must learn to love another and also earn her love in return. If he is unable to before the final rose petal falls, he will be doomed to stay as a beast forever, and his help will change permanently into the objects they are.

Years later, in the village of Villeneuve, a young and bright woman named Belle (Emma Watson) longs for a life of more excitement and adventure, one that doesn’t involve constantly being hit on by the town’s boorish, narcissistic hunter Gaston (Luke Evans). After her inventor father Maurice (Kevin Kline) goes missing during a trip to the market, she ventures off to find him and soon discovers that he’s been taken prisoner by the beast. Belle offers to take her father’s place in return for his freedom, and the beast accepts. Though she is the beast’s prisoner, his help – namely, candle Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) – believe she is the one destined to break the curse. Only time will tell is Belle is able to change the monster’s heart before it’s too late.

Though it was The Little Mermaid that kick-started Disney’s animated musical resurgence in 1989, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast took it to the next level by not only being the first animated film to crack the $100 million box office barrier (this isn’t counting animated re-releases for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella which allowed to cross over $100 million mark), but also be the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Disney’s original take on the French fairy tale is undoubtedly an endearing classic and Belle has earned her place next to Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and Ariel in the pantheon of princesses from the House of Mouse.

And once upon a time, this six-year-old cried uncontrollably at the end when Beast appears to be dead… ’cause I clearly forgot literally every single animated musical that came before where the prince and (or) princess always get a happy ending.

Some might consider it blasphemy to remake a classic, but classic or not, nothing’s stopping Mickey and Co. from powering on full steam ahead in reimagining as many of their classics as possible. Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and a revisionist stab at Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s perspective have all been done, with The Lion King, Snow White, Mulan and Aladdin waiting in the on-deck circle. Revisiting one of their most successful animated efforts probably seemed like a no-brainer to them.

Though, eventually, that well’s gonna run dry and all you’re gonna be left with is The Great Mouse Detective and A Goofy Movie, so enjoy this run while you can, Mickey.

While Disney hasn’t been batting 1.000 with these remakes, it hasn’t been a complete failure for them either. Sure, they shit the bed with Maleficent and turning Alice into some kind of feminine Braveheart was a bit of a mixed bag, but Cinderella and The Jungle Book were highly enjoyable updates on the classic versions. 2017’s Beauty and the Beast definitely has its inspired moments, but unfortunately lands somewhere around 2010’s Alice in Wonderland in average, middle of the road territory.

The trick to doing these updates right is finding a way to bring something fresh to the story while keeping the core essence of both the story and characters in tact. Putting the perspective on the villain in Maleficent wasn’t the problem; turning King Stefan into a raving psychopath and both Aurora and the fairies into bumbling morons were. Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book worked so well ’cause they brought something new to the story to merit a remake (Branagh’s film added more to Prince Charming’s relationships with his father and Cinderella; Favreau brought a darker tone to the Rudyard Kipling tale) without radically changing the story. Beauty and the Beast’s problem is that it’s a near beat-for-beat copy of its animated original.

There’s paying homage and then there’s a studio product that’s manufactured for nothing more than to reignite people’s interest and then sell them merchandise (updated film, updated soundtrack, updated toys). This film feels like the latter.

Oscar-winning writer/director Bill Condon, the man who gave us the horror sequel Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, hasn’t had the most consistent film career. Dreamgirls was a big ole pile of conventional meh and the final two entries to the Twlight saga – uh – yeah (in his defense, though, not even Spielberg or Scorsese could effectively adapt that drivel to the screen). However, when he brings his A-game he can give us Gods and Monsters and Kinsey. Dreamgirls not being the best showcase of his abilities as a musical director aside, Condon shows he still has a strong eye for extravagant detail, and spares no expense with the production. From the lavish costumes to the gorgeous set designs to the choreographed numbers “Belle” and “Gaston”, this, for sure, is a beautiful looking film. I don’t think anyone, for or against this film, will be arguing that this looks cheap (the CGI, on the other hand, is somewhat of a letdown, but we’ll get to that in a minute).

What holds this film back from being at the level of Branagh’s Cinderella or Favreau’s The Jungle Book is Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos script. When you make a near copy-cat of the original, you’re practically begging to be compared to the original, but an even bigger issue is that the few new ideas they do add only serve as unnecessary padding that causes the pacing to drag. The 1991 version was a nicely paced, economical 84 minutes. This version clocks in at two hours, so that’s nearly 40 minutes extra. Instead of using that extra run time to add more to the relationship between Belle and Beast, much like Branagh and his writers used the extra run time to add more to Cinderella and Prince Charming’s relationship, Condon, Chbosky and Spiliotopoulos devote that time to supporting characters such as Belle’s father Maurice, a past subplot involving Belle’s mother, and the enchantress who cursed Beast, none of which add anything substantial to the plot other than more run time.

It’s a tale as old as time… and in this case, as long as time.

As previously mentioned, the effects used to create the castle creatures are not up to par with what you’d expect from a powerhouse studio like Walt Disney throwing $160 million at the screen (reportedly, their budget totals around $300 million when factoring in prints and advertising with the production). Not that this is Birdemic by any means, but there’s still a stiffness to the CGI designs that lack expressive behavior (yeah, I get it, they’re inanimate objects… it’s also a fairy tale). It’s reported that Condon initially wanted to go for a practical look for the Beast, but eventually scrapped the idea for a CGI look. One wonders what the difference in quality would’ve been with a practical makeup look.

Despite my issues with the film, this is hardly a terrible movie. It may not be at the level of Cinderella or The Jungle Book, but it’s far from Maleficent’s level, and that’s mostly thanks to the cast. Emma Watson is no Paige O’Hara, particularly when it comes to the song numbers (though I will say some comparing her to sounding as rough as Russell Crowe and Pierce Brosnan is a bit extreme), but she still delivers a solid turn as Belle. Kevin Kline does fine work as Belle’s father Maurice, as does a fittingly cast Josh Gad as LeFou, whose “controversial gay moment” is nothing more than a superfluous, blink and you’ll miss it scene tacked on at the end. Gad can play the awkward type in his sleep, and his background in musical theater, not to mention Frozen, has him fitting in quite comfortably here, but the script does him a bit of a disservice with character developments occurring later on in the film that are hard to buy.

Also, who’s really shocked that a man who not only idolizes the town hero, but breaks out into a boisterous musical number in honor of him is gay?

The rest of the supporting cast are mostly those in voice-over/motion-capture work, and it’s bright, lively turns all-around from them. Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Stanley Tucci all play the various household objects within Beast’s castle, and it’s a testament to what they bring to their vocal performances that their poorly rendered CGI characters aren’t that much of a distraction.

The film’s best moments come from Dan Stevens and Luke Evans as the Beast and Gaston, respectively. Evans has always been a strong talent that really hasn’t been given the best opportunities, aside from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, but he performs his scenes with great narcissistic relish as the villain. Sure, he’s not exactly “roughly the size of a barge”, as his titular ode to himself states (not the only line within the song that doesn’t make much sense to his physicality), but Evans nails Gaston’s arrogant personality and showcases one of the finer singing voices out of the whole cast.

The underrated Dan Stevens has been on my radar ever since I saw The Guest (if you haven’t seen it, please, do so), and the tenor-voiced Downton Abbey actor is perfectly suited for this role. Obviously, to beat a dead horse, there’s no getting around the character effects, but just like his fellow voice cast members, that’s not Stevens’s fault. Stevens’s job is the performance and he does a strong job at conveying the anger, sadness and pathetic demeanor of his character. Despite my lukewarm reaction, if there’s one thing I do hope happens following this film, it’s that Stevens will be afforded bigger and better opportunities ’cause he does do the role justice.

Beauty and the Beast certainly has its high points. The costume and set designs are first-rate, the musical numbers, while not exactly memorable, are well-staged, and the cast is solid, Dan Stevens and Luke Evans being the particular highlights. However, though not a travesty by any stretch of the imagination, the film is bogged down by too much needless padding and an overall feeling of uninspired, by-the-numbers copying that sucks out much of the magic that made the original so special.

The tale may be as old as time, but unfortunately, this rendition is as memorable as a fleeting moment.

I give Beauty and the Beast a C+ (★★½).

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