Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast
By Matthew Huntley
March 27, 2017
The narration of course tells us about a cruel, selfish prince (Dan Stevens) turned into a hideous beast by a beggar woman, who later revealed herself to be a beautiful enchantress after she learned the prince had no love in his heart. She placed a curse on him and all who lived in his castle, and unless he can learn to love another and earn her love in return by the time the last petal of a magic rose falls, he'll remain a beast forever.
Enter the “Beauty” of this story, a kind, thoughtful farm girl named Belle (Emma Watson), whom the other villagers in her provincial French town view as odd because she's intelligent and well-read. Like most heroine's in stories of this nature, she wants more than her current life has to offer. She craves knowledge and adventure, and it’s her rebelliousness that attracts the brutish and conceited Gaston (Luke Evans), who's adored by every other woman in town, not to mention his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad).
As the story goes, when Belle's inventor-father (Kevin Kline) makes a detour on his way to the market and accidentally ends up trespassing in the Beast's castle, the Beast takes him prisoner. Belle willingly takes his place, and erelong, as she and Beast spend more time together, a love “that wasn't there before” begins to blossom.
And it just wouldn't be Beauty and the Beast without the colorful supporting characters, including Lumiere the candelabra (Ewan McGregor); Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen); Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) the teapot and her teacup-saucer son, Chip (Nathan Mack); and the wardrobe Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald). They lend their voices to some of the movie's time-honored music and dance numbers, which ranges from the opening prologue, “Belle,” to the instantly recognizable “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston” and, of course, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Despite the A-list talent behind it though, the music doesn't possess the same zest and spontaneity as the animated version (but then, how could it?). Even after seeing the original so many times, its music always feels fresh and alive; it's an aspect of the feature many viewers, myself included, look forward to with giddy anticipation. Here, the music is strangely awkward and sounds more like an imitation of something better. Plus, it's more obvious than usual the lyrics exist on a different audio channel and aren't production-based, which make the characters and their words feel detached from one another.
And though the actors may look the parts, their embodiment of the characters never goes beyond the superficial. They appear just as artificial as their surroundings and we're always aware they're wearing costumes instead of clothes, if you know what I mean. We watch them go through the motions of emulating their animated counterparts but never listen or invest in them emotionally, and so the romantic aspect of the tale, the love if you will, escapes us.
Perhaps, then, Beauty and the Beast, whether it's the animated feature or Broadway musical, is an example of a story whose original media just shouldn't be altered or combined with another form. The filmmakers tried but failed. At the end of it, my reaction was not one of pleasure or enthusiasm, but a question: what did this remake accomplish? It's a large, lavish production with lots happening on-screen, and yet, despite this, it left me feeling empty and disappointed. Before Disney commits to another live-action reimagining, which I'm sure is already in the works, the studio needs to genuinely ask whether it's necessary and if it will entertain viewers on its own terms or just leave them yearning for the original. In the case of Beauty and the Beast, it's the latter