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Dan's Review: "Beauty and the Beast" no match for the original

Mar 16, 2017 06:23PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast - © 2017 – Disney.

Beauty and the Beast (Disney)

Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.

Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, Adrian Schiller, Hattie Morahan, Gerard Horan, Zoe Raine.

Written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, based on work by Linda Woolverton and Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

Directed by Bill Condon.

GRADE: B

REVIEW:

A few years ago, while trying to describe the Disney culture of recycling content and cross promotion, I coined the term “Disnergy.” It seems Disney is somewhat unable to create new content without tying it to the “tried and true” classics of their heyday. There are exceptions, but most of them come from the folks they integrated from Pixar into the Disney animated regime, and those films do pretty good on their own (Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, etc.). But lately, Disney execs don’t seem content with their dominance over the animated market. They also want to reclaim the glory of past animated classics by re-imagining them into live-action epics. We’ve already seen Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent (based on Sleeping Beauty), Cinderella, and The Jungle Book. The studio is planning live-action remakes of Mulan, (another) 101 Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, Snow White, The Lion King, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Dumbo and Winnie the Pooh (and those are just the ones we know of). A live-action remake of the most beloved among all of Disney’s animated features comes in this week’s highly anticipated release of Beauty and the Beast.

It may be a “tale as old as time,” so I’ll dispense with a brief plot summary. Belle (Emma Watson) lives in a little French village with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline). The villagers all marvel at her beauty, but reject her feminist ways, apparently because she reads and has no interest in the town hunk Gaston (Luke Evans), who is constantly heralded by his toadie LeFou (Josh Gad). When Maurice is lost in the woods one day, he chances upon a hidden castle, cursed by an enchantress (Hattie Morahan) after the spoiled prince (Dan Stevens) rejects her in a beggar’s disguise. Besides transforming the prince into a massive beast, the castle’s other inhabitants are also changed into household furniture, including Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen), Lumière the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Plumette the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Mrs. Potts the teakettle (Emma Thompson) and her son Chip the teacup (Nathan Mack). Additionally, opera singer Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) and her husband Maestro Cadenza the harpiscord (Stanley Tucci) also join the cursed group.

Belle seeks to rescue her father, takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner…and the rest you know.

Here’s the deal: While the “new” Beauty and the Beast has its own unique charm and spectacular visual aesthetics, there really isn’t anything new that adds to the already (nearly) perfect 1991 animated classic. The story is basically the same (with few exceptions), all the songs are basically the same (with a few additional ones from the Disney Broadway production), and the dialogue follows along closely. Familiarity gets in the way, too. For example, as live action characters sing the songs you all know by heart, the cadence is relatively slower than you’re accustomed to. It takes a little more time to choreograph real people than it does a drawing or pixels, and it’s noticeable. These small differences might not seem all that conspicuous in isolation, but they add up to a movie more than 2 hours long. There’s also the issue of voice talent. While Emma Watson, Luke Evans, Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor all have adequate singing talent, they are not “Broadway” caliber, much like Paige O’Hara (Belle), Richard White (Gaston), Jerry Orbach (Lumière) or Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts). Yes, Josh Gad has real classical training, as does Audra McDonald, but they are not the main stars of the movie. Again, it’s a palpable difference.    

I also have one quibble that has to do with changes to Josh Gad’s LeFou characterization (and it’s not what you think). In the Disney Beauty and the Beast realm, LeFou is a villain. He always was, and ever will be Gaston’s acolyte, a man who would stop at nothing to promote and defend his buddy’s evil ways. In the new version, LeFou has a change of heart, and the change seems to be driven by the idea that the voice of the lovable Olaf from Frozen cannot POSSIBLY be associated with a detestable misogynist like Gaston. Much has been said about LeFou’s sexuality in the new movie, but it’s not really an issue, and it actually works as a comic element (taking the “bro-mance” a little further).

Which brings me all the way back to my original issues with “Disnergy.” I know the studio needs to make money to stay viable and keep the shareholders happy, but for once, I’d like to keep the classics untouched and unaltered. We don’t pine for a better Mona Lisa or Sistine Chapel, so why do we keep trying to suit animated classics to modern tastes and appetites?

Perhaps my 11-year-old daughter, who was SO excited to see the new Beauty and the Beast offered the most honest and noteworthy review of all. When I asked her what she thought of the new film, she shrugged and simply said, “the original is better.”

Yep. That girl has potential. 


Beauty and the Beast Trailer

Arts+Entertainment movies movie reviews Romance Animation
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