Some films exist to show viewers a new perspective or some simply entertain, but others, like Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” fail to present a compelling artistic argument for its own existence.
After last year’s one-two punch of “The Jungle Book” and “Pete’s Dragon,” both successful live-action remakes with a bold direction, it seemed the studio learned its lesson — if you are going to remake a movie, make it different enough to stand on its own.
Unfortunately, Disney learned nothing, and though the faith of the adaptation is sure to please fans, it continuously lacks anything resembling the original film’s quality. They have become complacent, content to coast to easy financial success with a second-rate imitation of one of the greatest animated films of all time.
The plot is largely the same as the identically-titled 1991 classic. Belle (Emma Watson) is an independent loner who spends most of her time reading and only lives with her eccentric father (Kevin Kline).
After a beast (Dan Stevens) captures her father, Belle willingly trades her freedom for his. For reasons unbeknownst to the screenwriters and the audience, they fall in love. And then inanimate objects come to life, and the manly Gaston (Luke Evans) acts villainous — these events purely take place because they are known to be in the original rendition.
The entire plot feels haphazardly assembled, as though the film knows what it wants to do, but fears the audience’s wrath if it does anything new. This fear of novelty is consistent throughout the movie as the plot strays far enough away from the animated version only to turn back just as it starts to become interesting.
The best example of this comes about halfway through the film, as Belle and the Beast discuss their pasts. Through magic, Belle finds out what happened to her mother. It is an intimate, emotional moment, and could have given the film a more believable edge, but the characters then return to Beast’s castle and everyone sings a classic song.
This infuriating repetition of teasing the audience with something original, then retreating into the familiar occurs over and over throughout the roughly two hour runtime, dragging the entire movie down.
But “Beauty and the Beast” is not without its merits. It boasts beautiful production design, a brilliant new song and an absolutely dynamite cast. Aside from the leads, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Josh Gad and even broadway star Audra McDonald appear.
The music, though mostly reprises of the famous original soundtrack, is predictably brilliant. Seeing a big-budget Hollywood musical is always a delight, and original songwriter Alan Menken returned with a new song for the Beast, an emotional ballad that provides a legitimate depth to the character. This new song, “Evermore,” represents a clear high-point for the film, the only moment where it actually improves on the original.
A discussion of the film would be incomplete without mentioning some of its more controversial elements. Much has been made of a gay character in film, but in the end it was a case of making mountains out of molehills. Only comprised of about 15 seconds of screen time, and limited to a glance, if anything, the moment was not enough to justify controversy.
Director Bill Condon created a visually-beautiful film, but when a two and a half hour movie remakes an hour-and-a-half cartoon yet only has three minutes of worthwhile material, it adds up to nothing.
“Beauty and the Beast”
Runtime: 129 minutes
Score: 2/5 stars