Beauty and the Beast is a faithful retelling of a near perfect movie but anything new it tries to bring to the table is purely superficial.
Director: Bill Condon
Summary: An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.
There are a lot of fundamental problems with re-making a movie that is basically considered perfect. That seems to be the challenge that Disney is facing now that they have decided to re-make all of their classic, animated movies with real actors. Cinderella wasn’t a musical and The Jungle Book had the novelty of bringing animals to life. However, Beauty and the Beast doesn’t appear to have anything new. It looks like a shot for shot remake of the classic Disney movie of the same name. That is enough to get by as a copy of perfection, but to truly rise above they needed to bring something new. They tried to make Belle (Emma Watson) a little more independent by making her much more aggressive in trying to escape at the beginning and hinting that she is very clever. They tried to bring some more logic to the idea of the curse and expanding on the Entrantress, but none of it adds up to much. The biggest change they made is to the character of LeFou (Josh Gad) which has been getting headlines for no reason.
There was very little Disney could do to make this adaptation bad as long as they stuck to their source material and they do. While those that know the songs are going to stumble as they mentally sing along because they don’t keep everything on the same beat, they are well executed. Watson has a decent singing voice and you settle into it by the time the opening number is over. The Beast (Dan Stevens) is also well done with a solid singing voice and the makeup and prosthetics that bring him to life are stunning. The rest of the ensemble of various objects around the house are all beautifully realized even if they are a little creepy at first. The faces on objects without the cartoony eyes of the original makes them almost walk the line of the “uncanny valley”, despite none of them looking human at all. Perhaps it is the lack of humanity that really makes them come across as a little off.
However, all of the new things are purely window dressing that don’t do much to add to the story. There is the angle of LeFou being gay and Disney is acting like they have reached some sort of new level of proper representation. The reality is the scene is barely there and there was more gay subtext in an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess than this movie. He looks at Gaston (Luke Evans) a little longingly and in the final dance he turns, ends up with a guy, and they smile at each other. That is not representation; that is taking a closeted villain and making him turn good when he realizes he “deserves better” than the dudebro that he is idolizing. The idea that this version of Belle is some sort of “inventor”, which Watson has said, is also pointless. She comes up with a slightly more efficient way of doing laundry and that’s it. The Enchantress hangs around the story a little more to try and fill in some plot holes that don’t do anything to improve the story in real ways.
Beauty and the Beast has nothing inherently wrong with it but it is, at its core, a copy of a masterpiece. It is a painter taking the time to painstakingly recreate A Starry Night but in a new medium, so it isn’t quite the same. It has depth because the original had depth, it has meaning because the original had meaning and it’s good because the original was good, but none of that adds up to a great movie on its own terms.
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