BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Hattie Morahan
MPAA Rating: (for some action violence, peril and frightening images)
Running Time: 2:09
Release Date: 3/17/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 17, 2017
A few too many times during the course of Beauty and the Beast, a live-action remake of the 1991 animated musical, the thought comes to mind: Why did they bother? Was it necessary to give us a rendition of "Be Our Guest"—that oh-so infectious tune—that is orchestrated to the point that the lyrics are mostly unintelligible? The suspicion, of course, is that the filmmakers assumed the people watching this already know the song, so they don't notice, because they're either humming along or filling in the auditory gaps.
The point, then, becomes the visual spectacle of seeing computer-animated versions of those lovable household items do a big song-and-dance number. If that's so, then why are the digital choreography and camera movements so busy that it becomes a constant blur?
For that matter, did we really need to have realistic renditions of those sidekicks? In the original film, part of their charm came from fluidity of their animation. This version turns them into stiff, mostly lifeless entities, because, after all, an actual clock and a real teapot are only capable of so much mobility. The candelabra has a bit more, since its arms can move. The same goes for the coat rack, and at least the operatic armoire features some internal curtains to replicate the movement of a mouth speaking.
The result is odd. One easily can understand the thought process behind the decision, since this interpretation of the fairy tale is relatively restrained by the bounds of reality. The sidekicks should look real—or as "real" as household items possessed by the consciousness of a castle's servants can look. They just end up blending in to the background, though, because they are part of the dark and gloomy Gothic castle where most of the story is set. It's odd, not simply because of the effect. It's because, on an aesthetic level, the decision is simultaneously the right one and the wrong one.
The entire movie possesses a similar feeling—of hypothetical rightness but of actual wrongness. It's a faithful remake of the original film, in that it maintains the same plot beats, the same songs, and even the same editorial pacing in the musical numbers, as well as some of the same shot setups. This is right, of course, because the original film worked so well. It's wrong, obviously, because the original film worked so well that it renders a duplicate—even a live-action one—unnecessary.
Hence, the story of Belle (Emma Watson), an ahead-of-her-time young woman from a provincial village in France, and her tricky romance with the Beast (Dan Stevens, undergoing a makeover of iffy digital effects) receives a little more back story for the two characters. Belle returns via magic to the home where she briefly spent the first months of her life, in order to discover why she's only being raised by her father Maurice (Kevin Kline). The magically transformed servants explain that the Beast is as cold and ill-tempered as he is because he was raised by a cold and ill-tempered father.
These new beats to the story in Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos' screenplay help to lessen the discomfort of a romance between a young woman who's being held captive by a brutish creature. The notion was somehow easier to forgive in animation, since it was obviously fantasy then. It's almost necessary here, as is the way Watson emphasizes the word "alarming" during one song—about finding herself feeling something like romance for a talking animal. It is kind of alarming in this version.
Also returning are the villainous Gaston (Luke Evans, quite effective in his dastardliness) and the cad's right-hand man LeFou (Josh Gad), who looks at his boss with a bit more than fawning admiration in this version (The pair's big number also suffers from over-orchestration, but there's a clever gag that LeFou has to bribe the pub's regulars to sing about Gaston). The comic sidekicks again include the candelabra Lumière (Ewan McGregor), the clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), and the teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson). The vocal performances are up to the task, which is vital since the computer-generated characters have lost their personality in translation (The wolves that live within the woods, though, are menacing creations).
The castle, thankfully, has not lost its personality. It remains an imposing presence here—glum and foreboding, surrounded by an eternal winter. The songs from the original film (by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman), too, remain as nimble and catchy as they were before, even with some new verses and plenty of vamping to accommodate the longer musical sequences. Menken and Tim Rice provide a few new songs for the expanded story. The new additions don't add much, except for the striking image of a lamenting Beast scaling a castle tower to look upon Belle for as long as possible.
Even if the original didn't exist, Beauty and the Beast has too many issues—mostly of pacing and effects—for it to be effective. Because we already have the original, this is, ultimately, a pretty redundant effort that lacks the spirit, energy, and charm of its forebear.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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