Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast
By Matthew Huntley
March 27, 2017
Bill Condon's Beauty and the Beast plays like the version you might see performed on a float during Disney's Christmas Day Parade. In other words, it's awkward, overwrought and gaudy, and its presentation is not conducive to the material. It seems the filmmakers wanted to combine the 1991 animated classic and the 1993 Broadway musical into one cinematic experience, but in their attempt to do so, the finished film loses each of the preceding versions' best qualities, with the result being a clunky, ungainly and ultimately unnecessary mess. I'm with Angela Lansbury, the original voice of Mrs. Potts, who asked, “Why? Why are they doing this over again?”
Of course, we all know why. Disney's recent string of live-action adaptations of their animated classics (including Maleficent, Cinderella and The Jungle Book) have proven enormously successful, and not just financially, but also critically (The Jungle Book was especially well crafted and delightful). And I'm not suggesting a similar treatment couldn't have been applied to Beauty and the Beast with some degree of achievement, but because the animated film and Broadway musical are as good as they are, there hardly seemed room for improvement. This live-action hybrid merely underlines the adage, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.”
But perhaps “fix” isn't the right word. To be fair, Condon and his team don't seem inclined to improve upon the other versions so much as tell the fairytale in a different way. The problem is they don't, and I never got a sense they were bring anything new to the table, other than a larger budget. This is, really, just the animated and musical versions combined, filmed with real-life actors against mostly green screens. So then what's the point? There's little in the way of twists or spins, either narrative or character-wise, although it was refreshing (and encouraging) to see the studio was unafraid to cast people of color in expectedly white roles and to suggest some of the characters might be gay. But aside from these little touches, it seems the studio only green-lighted Beauty and the Beast to cash in on the original's popularity. At just over a quarter of a century old, the generation that grew up with the beloved animated film will most surely want to see this new one and take their own kids. How could any new incarnation of Beauty and the Beast not thrive at the box-office?
It's just a shame it doesn't thrive artistically or entertainingly. Unlike The Jungle Book, with its beauteous, pulsating imagery and energy, Beauty and the Beast comes across as murky and flat. Despite nearly every shot being enhanced by special effects, I never believed any of its environments were real, even in the context of the film's own reality. Everything appears artificial and as part of a set. Even the sun doesn't seem bright or natural enough.
More problematic than its lackluster look, though, is the story, which doesn't feel self-contained and confident, like it could exist without viewers having prior knowledge of the other versions. In fact, the filmmakers assume the audience already knows the story and therefore rush through many developments. I sensed this as early as the opening narration, which doesn't start off slowly, mysteriously and dream-like (the animated film did this by fading in on the Beast's castle from afar and tracking in through layers of trees), but rather jumps right in, as if it's in a hurry. We're not allowed time to process this world.