Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast
By Ben Gruchow
March 24, 2017
The 2017 Beauty and the Beast is the cinematic equivalent of taking a moderate sedative with a cup of coffee. It is drowsy and inert, yet for 129 minutes stubbornly refuses to end. Its successes in lighting and set design are overtaken by artificial visuals and listless photography, antsy editing, flabby storytelling, and dialogue that has been mostly transplanted from the earlier film to diminishing effect. When we look past those symptoms, we’re able to reflect on how wholly unnecessary the whole thing is. It says something that this is roughly the gazillionth live-action adaptation/sequel/reimagining of a nostalgia-driven property we’ve seen in the last couple of years, it’s by no means the worst of them, and yet it’s the first that I feel compelled to actually dislike - so mercenary and profit-driven does it feel in every frame of its being.
What we have in front of us is a straight remake of the 1991 animated Disney film: it begins and ends at the same place, adopts most of the same incident, and in the process provides an excellent case study for future film-school students - how some animation can sell design and mood in ways that live action simply cannot. As before, the story revolves around three characters: a country girl named Belle (Emma Watson), her would-be suitor and the village chauvinist Gaston (Luke Evans), and a cursed prince transformed into a Beast for his inability to feel love and empathy (Dan Stevens). Much of the story concerns Belle and the Beast, her becoming his prisoner for trespassing and the two of them gradually becoming closer (her love being necessary for him to regain his humanity), although much more of the screen time than you’d think is devoted to Gaston and his machinations to win Belle’s hand in marriage, Beast or no.
All of this is wrapped up with a desire on the part of the storytellers in both iterations of the film to explore the different forms a monstrous nature can take, via growing humanity in a nonhuman, outwardly undesirable form and receding humanity in an outwardly desirable form. In the 1991 film, it was also something more than that: an animated feature that told a love story from a relatively adult perspective. We can abstain from examining the unpleasant implications of the way that love story formulates; it’s been well-examined by this point already, and this iteration does nothing to fundamentally change it.
The original 1991 animated film, you’ll recall, was right around 80 minutes long sans end credits. What’s done here is something of an unwelcome magic trick: how to add 40 minutes of inconsequential footage to a story and make the thing feel somehow choppier and slighter. The explanation behind this feeling, I think, is that this film is more interested in showing off Moments from the original, and less interested in the connective tissue in between those moments, or in even stitching the moments themselves together with much in the way of flow. That showcase of Moments forms the ultimate in feeding audience nostalgia with an inferior photocopy. Did you treasure the iconic ballroom-dancing scene in the 1991 film, which showed off the Disney animators’ command of the revolutionary CAPS capabilities (even if it never quite reconciled the difference between a three-dimensional backdrops and two-dimensional participants)? Well, here’s the same thing again, except in live-action and incapable of the same dreamlike feeling of fluidity.