Beauty and the Beast review: Disney follow on from their success on The Jungle Book with this revisit to their 1991 animated classic.
Beauty and the Beast review, Paul Heath, March 2017.
The Walt Disney Company continue on their journey to adapt every single one of their animated films to live-action form with an attempt to repeat the success of a 1991 classic. So far on that journey, which will continue with Aladdin and The Lion King in the future, the Mouse House has had quite the success, particularly with their last effort, The Jungle Book, which was surprisingly good. It’s a shame that Beauty and the Beast fails to duplicate that accomplishment.
This, ahem, tale as old as time revolves around the central character of Belle (Emma Watson), a twenty-something outcast of a small French village who is the object of affection for local ruffian Gaston (Luke Evans). Constantly brushing off his advances, Belle goes about her business shopping in the local market and pursuing her love of Shakespeare. All that changes when her father Maurice (Kevin Kline), and loyal horse Phillipe, fail to return from a two-day trip to sell his newest invention. When Phillipe manages to find his way home, the loyal steed leads Belle to a dark castle where she discovers that a mysterious Beast (Dan Stevens) has imprisoned her father. After a series of events, Belle manages to convince the Beast to let her swap places with her father, who is eventually freed to return to the village. We discover that the castle and all of its inhabitants, including Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen), Lumiere the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Mrs. Potts the tea pot (Emma Thompson), and Beast himself are under a massive spell which can only be broken if he finds true love before the final petal falls from an enchanted rose.
But you knew all of that. The story, from the original work La Belle et la Bête by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, has been told many times in film form over the years – from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film through to Disney’s timeless 1991 animated classic. 26 years have passed since the release of Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s film, but it hasn’t aged one bit – save from the animation style perhaps. So was a remake necessary? Well, of course not, but the same could be said of the aforementioned ‘Jungle Book’, and Jon Favreau’s re-imagining was received with open arms from critics and the general public. The main issue with Bill Condon‘s Beauty and the Beast is that it has unfortunately failed to replicate that magic, and it’s not one element of it that is the cause.
The film is full of superb performances, particularly from Watson, the largely motion-captured Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad, but some of them just feel a little bit miscast. Stand-outs are indeed Gad and also Kline as an under-played Maurice, a wonderful turn for the accomplished actor. The direction and pacing of the film is fine, and the two hour-plus running time whips by, but it doesn’t really offer anything new. Sure, there are some new elements, including fresh songs written by the great Alan Menken, and indeed the appearance of some new characters, including Stanley Tucci‘s Cadenza, but aside from a witty pay-off involving piano keys and teeth, he is largely wasted.
It’s hard to fault the digital effects work on show here – this is truly Disney and the filmmaker’s biggest strength, and the film is a true spectacle, but it lacks that extra ingredient that fails to ignite a feeling of nostalgia, emotion or indeed wonder.
All of the songs are present, Disney opting for their inclusion rather than an omitting them like in the very different, though slightly superior Cinderella from a few years back – one of the studio’s first attempts at reviving their long-lost animated classics. The problem with ‘Beauty’ is that the original is etched so firmly into memory, was so magical, so fresh and full of amazement, that matching that would be virtually impossible. Put this on its own with none of the memory of that classic and you would have an exceptional film, but as it stands Beauty and The Beast 2017 offers little more than a whimsical rehash.
Beauty and the Beast review by Paul Heath, March 2017.
Beauty and the Beast is released in cinemas globally on 17th March 2017.