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Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Directed by: Bill Condon

Premise: A live action remake of Disney’s 1991 animated feature. A bookish young woman (Emma Watson) is taken prisoner by a prince who has been transformed into a hairy monster (Dan Stevens). The prince must win her love or remain as a beast forever.

What Works: The remake of Beauty and the Beast is a lavish and well produced movie. More than anything, the filmmakers create a convincing fairytale world. The costumes, sets, and exterior locations have a classic fairytale look that is rich with detail. The filmmakers show some restraint with the style of this picture; it generally has an organic look that grounds the fantasy. Beauty and the Beast is well cast. The film is led by Emma Watson as Belle, a young woman with a mind of her own who yearns for life beyond her village. Watson and the screenplay seize upon Belle’s outsider status and make her into a feminist character who is resourceful and smart and stands up to others, especially the Beast. Also impressive is Luke Evans as village hunk Gaston and Josh Gad as his lackey LeFou. The two of them are a satisfying comic pair with Evans the straight man and Gad as the comic foil. Evans also impresses with his singing and he is one of the best musical performers in the movie. The remake of Beauty and the Beast makes a few additions to the story of the 1991 film and in almost every respect the changes are for the better. It appears as though the filmmakers went through the previous movie and identified its flaws and inconsistencies. The new version also adds depth and subtlety to the cast. There is much more going on between Belle and her father, played by Kevin Kline, and the Beast is given a backstory that explains his curse. These additions deepen the characters and add some additional dramatic weight to the story.

What Doesn’t: The 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast is a remake in the purest sense of the word. For all intents and purposes, this is the exact same movie as the 1991 film but this time in live action. But even calling 2017’s Beauty and the Beast “live action” is a stretch since so many of the characters and sets are computer generated. The new version does add a few new details but the overall plot, songs, sets, and even the costumes and character design are all the same as the 1991 film. The familiarity of every aspect of Beauty and the Beast dogs this movie. It never shakes the impression of déjà vu; we’ve seen all of this before with most of it done just as well in the animated version. Perhaps owing to its familiarity as well as its drab color scheme, the remake of Beauty and the Beast is a low energy affair. The song and dance numbers don’t have the same flair or showmanship as the 1991 film and the narrative lacks momentum. The story doesn’t drive from one development to the next so much as it dutifully works though a checklist of plot points from the 1991 film. Beauty and the Beast’s lack of dramatic drive weighs on the film and it feels its two hour and nine minute length. A critical area in which this new version pales in comparison to the 1991 film is the design of the Beast. He never looks beastly enough. He’s not repulsive or feral. Instead, he looks like an anthropomorphic buffalo. More critically, the Beast doesn’t have much of a personality and he was better characterized in the animated version. One flaw of the original Beauty and the Beast that isn’t corrected here is the accents of the cast. The movie is set in France but like most Hollywood movies that take place in Europe the majority of the cast speak with British accents. That’s fine except that other cast members speak in a Hollywood parody of a French accent, especially Ewan McGregor as sentient candlestick Lumière. But then again, so did Jerry Orbach in the same role in the 1991 film.

Bottom Line: Taken as a work unto itself, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is a well-made film that is sufficiently entertaining. But like the 1998 remake of Psycho, this is an industrial replica of a work of art. It does improve the material in some ways but this is fundamentally the same movie.

Episode: #640 (March 26, 2017)