Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Be our guest.
Twenty-six years after the Mouse House spellbinded audiences with its Beauty and the Beast reimagining — a story initially written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 — the world’s most celebrated account of Stockholm syndrome is back! Aiming to take advantage of the current wave of cinematic nostalgia, and taking its cues from Kenneth Branagh’s decent 2015 Cinderella revision, this live-action-CGI hybrid works as a faithful re-telling of a treasured classic, the suits over at Disney hoping it’ll attract those who fell in love with their 1991 animated musical (probably having watched it over a dozen times as youngsters) and now have kids of their own.
Captained by Bill Condon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Parts 1 & 2 (2011-12), this new iteration of the ‘tale as old as time’ sticks very closely to Disney’s definitive earlier version — which also spawned a long-running stage musical — its beloved characters brought back to the fore, along with its earworm tunes (originally assembled by composer Alan Menken and legendary lyricist Howard Ashman), all of which have been revamped by Menken. With that said, Condon’s Beauty and the Beast feels a little too excessive and showy, the production coming off as overindulgent. See, while the ’91 flick opened with a nifty stained-glass-window prologue that quickly set the scene, outlining the history of the Beast, the new prelude is much more flashy and drawn out. Beginning with a pre-title sequence that introduces the greedy, selfish prince (Dan Stevens) at one of his lavish balls, where he is cursed by an Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) after mocking her in front of his guests, it’s immediately clear that this enormous production is going to have more bells and whistles than a fire station, this out-and-out showiness evident right from the get-go. To punish the nobleman for his superficiality, this ‘sorceress’ places a curse on his fortress, transforming the prince into a grizzly Beast and all of the mansion’s inhabitants into household objects, the employees doomed to live out the rest of their days without their humanity, that’s unless the prince can learn to love another and be loved in return. We all know how the story goes.
The narrative then jumps ahead several years, where we meet the radiant young Belle (an okay Emma Watson), a bright, bookish lass who resides in the small French village of Villeneuve, where she goes about her daily duties, pondering the monotonous routine of her repetitive ‘provincial life.’ An outcast who hankers for a bigger, grander future, we see Belle constantly reject advances from the town’s swankiest bachelor, Gaston (Luke Evans), a vain, arrogant hunter who wishes to make Belle his wife, even after she remains impervious to his brutish charms.
Alas, when Belle’s reclusive father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), winds up a prisoner in the Beast’s crumbling mid-18th century abode, Belle tracks him down and offers to take his place. Now, with ‘the beauty’ locked away in one of the ominous stronghold’s icy towers, the not-quite-inanimate objects who reside there conspire together to try and help mademoiselle see their monstrous master for what he truly is, the ornate items hoping she’ll be the one who will finally capture his heart and break their spell. Waiting for ‘true love’ to sprout are the castle’s bewitched former staff, including Lumière (Ewan McGregor), a rebellious maître d’ who’s been transformed into a candelabra, Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), the castle’s jittery majordomo, now taking the form of a mantel clock, and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), the motherly cook who looks after her son Chip (Nathan Mack), the pair having been turned into a teapot and teacup, respectively.
Written by Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), and Evan Spiliotopoulos, Hercules (2014), this ‘new’ Beauty and the Beast feels more engineered than organic, the plot basically following the same story beats as its 1991 equivalent with a few subplots added for extra exposition, this sameness forcing us to make comparisons between the two. This time around viewers learn more about Belle’s father Maurice, (who makes music boxes for a living), and his heartbreaking past, particularly the fate of Belle’s mother. We also have a few brand new musical numbers (none of which are that good) such as the ballad ‘How Does a Moment Last Forever,’ a track, performed by Kevin Kline, that speaks about holding onto life’s precious moments, ‘Days in the Sun’ which sees the palace workers reminisce the good ’ol days, and the strongest of the bunch, the soaring ‘Evermore’ which the Beast belts out after finally releasing Belle from his bleak fortress. It’s the original songs, however, that shine brightest, with highlights being the burly tavern number ‘Gaston’ and Lumière’s Busby-Berkeley-Esther-Williams-inspired musical sequence, ‘Be Our Guest.’
While much has been said about Gaston’s sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad), Disney’s first-ever openly gay character, there’s little in the actual film that’s worthy of protest or celebration. We have a third-act cross-dressing gag that involves three castle intruders and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene that sees Lefou dance with another man — this, after he’s seen loosely questioning his sexuality throughout the film. Be that as it may, these moments are far from scandalous or groundbreaking, which leads me to believe that the whole ‘LGBT thing’ has been a little overstated to say the least.
Overstuffed yet enjoyable, Beauty and the Beast looks like it cost Disney a packet, the movie brimming with highly-decorated sets by production designer Sarah Greenwood, Sherlock Holmes (2009), and extravagant, expensive-looking garments by costume designer Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina (2012), this dynamic duo sourcing both Jean Cocteau’s 1946 masterwork La belle et la Bête and Disney’s Oscar winning toon for visual inspiration. But, while the flick’s digital textures (wood, brass and ceramics) integrate seamlessly with their surroundings, the character designs are too true-to-life and ergo, feel a bit sub-standard. Lumière’s gilded candlestick is probably the weakest of the bunch, his facial expressions too small and stiff to convey a wealth of emotion, this new form lacking the soul and energy of his ’91 counterpart, chiefly his heightened attributes and fun, comical actions. Cogsworth fares a little better but other major players such as Mrs. Potts, Plumette (a white feather duster voiced by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and a harpsichord who goes by the name of Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) all suffer from the same flaws. This brings me to the Beast himself. Again, while his hair, fur and features are all wonderfully rendered, the animation is less convincing than that of last year’s fantastic The Jungle Book, the CGI a tad distracting, sometimes even sticking out like a sore thumb.
So how are the performances? Emma Watson, who’s best known for playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, makes for a passable Belle, even if she never quite sets the screen ablaze with her fiery spirit, or wholly convinces as the wistful dreamer who wishes for something more. Dan Stevens, The Guest (2014), Watson’s blue-eyed co-star, makes for a good partner, mimicking the attitudes and actions of Disney’s former Beast, Stevens essentially going through the motions under layers of effects. Again, Luke Evans, Dracula Untold (2014), tries his best as the egocentric baddie Gaston, even if he doesn’t quite capture the same vigor that Richard White brought to the villain back in the early 1990s.
Ironically, it’s Scotsman Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge! (2001), who delivers the film’s finest performance as the boisterous servant Lumière (even if his ‘look’ is slightly lacking), McGregor tapping into that goofy French accent that Jerry Orbach fashioned for the character some twenty-six years ago — but, shouldn’t everyone be speaking with a French slur? Replacing Angela Lansbury is Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee (2005), who voices the Cockney accented Mrs. Potts, the 57-year-old struggling to rival Lansbury’s level-headed softness — thankfully, Thompson delivers a passable rendition of the quintessential ballroom version of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Last but not least we have six-time Tony Award winning singer Audra McDonald, who’s wasted as Madame Garderobe, a renowned Italian opera diva that’s been transformed into a creepy wardrobe in Belle’s bedroom.
Despite the thrill of seeing one of Disney’s most treasured cartoons being brought to life, Beauty and the Beast doesn’t offer anything awfully fresh or innovative, filmmakers regurgitating the overcooked message that ‘beauty comes from within,’ this remake caressing, rather than clasping the heart. While I’m sure most will enjoy this live-action overhaul for what it is, Beauty and the Beast should’ve been something truly magical, director Condon failing to put his own unique stamp on this enthralling fairytale. Still somewhat enchanting, this one, more than anything else, had me wanting to revisit the original.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie