Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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The Disney remake machine has been a topic of debate among my film buddies, especially with the release of Beauty and the Beast. I constantly hear it: Why does this film, or any Disney remake, exist? Each remake, with the exception of Maleficent, has not veered very far from the original plot.

I look at the Disney remakes the same way I look at the Disney theme parks. I am a grown, childless man who has been to Disneyland more often than most my age might admit. I went twice in one year at one point. But the last time I went, I was not the only adult there.

There is a nostalgic appeal to going to Disneyland for many grown ups. They are not refusing to grow up, they simply want to relive that enchanting feeling from their childhood. It is familiar, but different at the same time. You can appreciate the place differently as an adult. Plus, it is just very fun.

For the most part, this is what Beauty and the Beast does. The remake does a good job of recreating that enchantment of the original, which is sure to please the adult Disney fans. It may try the patience of younger fans, but it honestly does not seem to be aiming for them. There is some very welcome development for a number of characters, adding a surprising depth to the classic story.

That said, like a refurbished Disneyland ride that adds unwanted features, not every addition is welcome. And ultimately, romance at the center of the film suffers from the mishandling of one of the major characters. There is fun to be had with Beauty and the Beast…but just how much is there?

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One: Tale As Old As Time…

Beauty and the Beast does not change a whole lot about the original and why would it? You don’t fix what ain’t broken! But there is something very appealing about seeing your favorite moment come alive on screen again. That is why this film is mostly meant for the adult fans of the original film. Children will like it as well, but they will not get the same kick out of it.

The film is shot beautifully by director Bill Condon and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, as the picturesque countryside of France with its vibrant colors right out of the original are painstakingly recreated. Every shot of the Beast’s castle is really amazing, becoming a character of its own in many ways.

source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

All of the classic songs return, with a crazed version of “Be Our Guest” a standout. I am the first to decry the overuse of CGI, but the sequence is so imaginative and crazy, it works. This feels like the most authentic moments in some ways, as the filmmakers just let it loose for the number.

On the other hand, the famous ballroom dance between Belle and the Beast pales in comparison to the original, coming off slightly bland. The original scene was beautiful and groundbreaking. The only chance the remake takes is adding a few CGI effects in the background.

There are some new songs (At least new to me…I am not familiar with the Broadway musical) and while some are decent, others feel shoe horned in as one musical number crashes into another. We never get a chance to take in one emotional moment because the film launches right into the next song.

That is not only new material here. The excellent supporting cast, including Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline), Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellan) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) are all given extra character moments that flesh them out in surprisingly effective ways. The standout here is Maurice and his relationship with Belle. His dearly departed wife and Belle’s mother is handled in a very touching manner.

You truly invest in the servants’ desire to be human again as that plot point is pretty well developed. We learn their backgrounds, their loves, and why they still love their prince despite the curse he has inflicted on them.

Antagonist Gaston (Luke Evans) is joyfully over the top. This is the most evocative work I have ever seen from Evans, and while it is not realistic at all, it is just so fun to see him chew the scenery. Josh Gad has some fun moments as Gaston’s companion LaFou. Much has been said about the first gay character in a Disney film, and while that is great to see, the portrayal comes dangerously close to being stereotypical. And towards the end, his screen time diminishes.

source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

All of that said, most of the new material adds to the films run time, bloating it to just over two hours. And while I would not say it gets boring, you do feel the length. Nostalgia is the film’s strength and its weakness in this regard; You know where the story is going and when the plot dallies, you want it to get moving. This is another reason why the film is probably best meant for adult fans, as younger children may start to get restless.

But the largest fault lies in the main couple.

The Beauty and The Beast

In a story called Beauty and the Beast, the actual Beauty and your Beast better be up to snuff, or the whole story falters. And while they get one of those characters mostly right, the other has some glaring flaws that nearly ruin the experience.

source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The visual effects used to bring the Beast to life are adequate at times, obviously artificial in others. At no point does the Beast ever feel like a tangible part of the world. There is a scene where we get a semi-close up of Beast’s back and it looks terrible on screen.

This is too bad because Dan Stevens is pretty solid in the role. How much of his own voice he uses is unclear, but he gives the Beast a monstrous but also emotional voice. Yes, he yells out with an animal fury, but the quiet moments are very effective.

Like the rest of the characters, The Beast is given some new back story that fleshes him out in a great way. We learn why the Prince became so cruel. It is a small moment and a bit cliched, but it gives the Beast an interesting layer.

source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

And then there is Emma Watson’s Belle. I am a fan of Watson, believing she is the most talented of the trio of young actors from the Harry Potter films. She has a bright future. But in Beauty and the Beast, something is off.

First the positive: Watson has a beautiful voice and during certain musical numbers, she does what any lead in a musical should do. There are moments during the opening song, “Belle,” when she is alive and commands your attention. Unfortunately, more often than not, she becomes wooden or stagy.

During “Be Our Guest,Watson sits there with a wooden smile seemingly frozen on her face as she awkwardly interacts with the various appliances flying by her. In her defense, most of the sequence is CGI so how much of the scene is actually there in front of her may play into the performance. But this is not the only instance.

Part of this oddly bland performance from a talented actress may be the character. While all of the other characters are given some interesting and fleshed out back stories, Belle is not. Yes, the film retains her inventive and bibliophile nature from the original, but most of what they add serves other characters.

Belle’s most important character revelation feels like it benefits the Beast more than her. I will not spoil the moment, because it truly is powerful, but it is unclear why this is important to Belle’s progression. Hell, it is more important to Maurice than her.

In terms of the romance, you will buy that the Beast is falling for Belle, but the reverse is harder to see. The Beast’s motivations and feelings are clear, while Belle falls for him seemingly only because the script calls for it. She is an empty shell of a character, which is unfortunate for Watson, who deserves better.

Nostalgia And Growing Up

Think of your most beloved ride at Disneyland. Without fail, this is the ride you look forward to every time you go. Imagine your excitement when Disney announces they are refurbishing the ride and adding some new things.

Now imagine going on that ride and disliking some of the new things they did to it. Not only that, the animatronic characters inside are broken. It is still fun, but an ultimately flawed experience.

I just described my view of Beauty and the Beast. The hardcore adult Disney fan will find much to like…the adult cinephile, not so much.

Score: 6.5 out of 10

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