Review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ 2017 (less beast, more explanation)

While interesting to see many plot holes filled in, a few choices contribute far too little: the pitfalls of remaking a classic.

In a poor provincial French hamlet — a quiet village, some say — Belle (Emma Watson) and her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) endure the small-minded ideals of the local peasantry, none smaller than Gaston (Luke Evans) and his yes-man LeFou (Josh Gad). With plans to marry Belle — whether she likes it or not — Gaston is unknowingly thwarted by another would-be suitor: a savage Beast (Dan Stevens), the cursed lord of a forgotten castle in an enchanted woodland. Intent on saving her father at any cost and in little need of rescuing herself, Belle finds herself at the center of an adventure like she’s only read about… but can it truly have a storybook ending?

The House of Mouse has long since purchased the imagination of boys everywhere with its Star Wars and Marvel Entertainment acquisitions, but advances in movie-making technology now allow former girl-targeted Disney Princess films to be remade with live actors and lavish productions. As one of the very few traditionally animated productions ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, there’s a lot to live up to, but not everything that works in cell animation can hit the same high notes as a live production; choices must be made. Can Beauty and the Beast continue its tale as old as time into Disney’s live-action renaissance?

To suggest this remake wasn’t influenced at least in part by its Broadway musical counterpart would be an understatement, but the production crew didn’t have the magic of CGI at their disposal. Casting Emma Watson as a self-rescuing future princess was obvious — being both cute and damnably clever is her M.O. — as was casting Josh Gad as slightly sinister comic relief LeFou, but Luke Evans reportedly sought the role of Gaston, not exactly a positive role-model like his recent Hobbit and Dracula characters. Other parts were filled by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson, quite the cast even for a production such as this. For anyone who has seen the original, however, it is impossible not to compare and contrast the two films; for someone not familiar with either one, the original animated film is still your best bet.

The screenwriters were clearly fans of the original story, enough to fix a few story problems. How does a castle exist so close by a village and no one remembers it, especially one under a curse for just a very few years? Think about that: we don’t want our late-teensomething/ early-twentysomething Belle involved with a century-old supernatural creature named Edward, do we? An expanded backstory fixes much of this while also making the castle and surrounding valley far more magical than its animated origins — including the castle inhabitants being much more responsible for the Beast’s predicament. We also knew Belle was clever, but the updated story suggests she’s just as inventive as her father when the need arises. LaFou’s character has also been greatly expanded, keenly aware of his place at Gaston’s side and well-informed of Gaston’s shortcomings; he even spreads a few francs around a taproom to give Gaston more praise from the masses than clearly earned. The castle library has a bit more impact — the village “bookshop” is more of a bookshelf now — and we finally see how Belle got the fallen Beast up on that damn horse (hint: it wasn’t by saying “Wingardium Leviosa!”)

Then there are… other changes. The three village blondes are mysteriously brunettes now, a more ethnically diverse group of villagers now inhabit the French town, the Beast has an inexplicable atlas of translocation (read: plot device) to go with his magic mirror, and more than a few songs and fun scenes are missing. Speaking of which, the showstopping “Be Our Guest” extravaganza falls very flat, due in no small way to Belle looking added in as a design element rather than a participant. Additionally, lines of dialog memorably belonging to the Beast have been distractingly handed off to other characters; up until halfway through the movie, it looks like they’re trying to keep the Beast hidden and rarely spoken, but some worthy and clever expanded dialog has been added to his part, so why shuffle the lines around? Was it to give McGregor and McKellen more to say? And while not precisely necessary, it was sad the kitchen stove never got the chance to freak out the invaders during the castle attack.

You may already be aware of some of the new film’s more controversial revelations, but if you’re the kind of person boycotting the new movie due to homophobia or interracial kissing, you should also be aware the lead actress misspent her youth indoctrinating your children into witchcraft and sorcery. The only believable reason this classic was remade was for love of money, but it does look fantastic doing it. For all the changes good and bad, the movie works in spite of falling short of the original.

Beauty and the Beast is rated PG for some action violence, peril, frightening images, and an expensive education.

3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four

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