The 400-Word Review: Beauty and the Beast
By Sean Collier
March 21, 2017
The 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast remains an enormously significant milestone in the history of the medium. As artful as it is popular, the majestic cartoon — the first to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy — was the keystone of the fabled “Disney Renaissance,” a fortune-changing period of creative growth for the company.
Its themes and politics, however, remain a source of debate. How to measure the presence of a headstrong, education-focused heroine — a revelation in 1991 — against the fact that her romance can be argued as a case of Stockholm Syndrome at best? In sharp contrast to Disney (and indeed, movie) tradition, Belle ends up saving the Beast! But only after looking past his abusive, unforgivable behavior.
Now, a modern-day reboot — in live action, this time — must try to deal with those conundrums while remaining true to the admired original (which has no shortage of devotees).
In this one, Belle is even stronger and more self-sufficient. (But doesn’t that make her eventual fealty to the Beast more troubling?) More rationale is given for the creature’s sorry state and surly attitude. (But doesn’t that go against the argument that he didn’t know any better when he was imprisoning Belle?) And hey — it features Disney’s first openly gay character! (Who, essentially, does a Waylon Smithers act in fawning over the oblivious Gaston, opening up a raft of new criticisms.)
Plenty to discuss! Plenty to unpack! The think pieces that will be written!
But you know what? All that comes second, because this Beauty and the Beast is just so darn lovely.
The heart of Disney magic may be more properly represented here than ever before, with breathtaking storybook imagery in every frame. As Belle, Emma Watson adds considerably to the iconic heroine’s relatability and charm; Dan Stevens makes use of new technology to make a charming (and menacing) Beast. A supporting cast including the likes of Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald is, by and large, perfect.
The classic songs from the 1991 film are well complemented by new material by Alan Menken and Tim Rice; meanwhile, director Bill Condon takes cues from classics of animation rather than modern-day fantasy. So yes, this Beast will give fans plenty to debate and discuss. But, thankfully, it will simultaneously give fans new and old more than enough enchantment.
My Rating: 8/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark