‘Beauty and the Beast’ (2017) Review: Pretty but Superfluous

'Beauty and the Beast'

Movie Rating:

3

While Jon Favreau’s high-tech take on ‘The Jungle Book’ may have reinvented enough elements of the Disney animated classic to justify its existence, the live-action reboot of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ feels like little more than a restaging of the 1991 cartoon triumph. It’s nice enough and pretty enough, but why does this need to exist?

That’s been the question hanging over many of the recent live-action remakes of Disney’s back catalog for those old enough to remember the source material. While some of the projects, including Favreau’s blockbuster and the admittedly underwhelming ‘Maleficent’, have dared to do something new with their easily marketable and recognizable properties, others such as Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Cinderella’ and now ‘Beauty and the Beast’ feel more like expensive photocopies than actual movies. Granted, they’re all well-made and lovely enough to tickle eyeholes, but the remakes are such obvious clones that they tend to feel like Disney’s cash-grab direct-to-video sequels that gobbled up Blockbuster Video shelves for years by pandering to brand loyalty and overly forgiving young audiences. If so many talented Hollywood players are going to spend years producing movies for the Disney vaults, why not let them actually add some of their personality to the material?

As you may have gathered, the plot for this one is exactly the same as the animated version. Emma Watson plays Belle, a headstrong bookworm tired of country village life with her loving father (Kevin Kline) and anxious to find some adventure. Luke Evans plays Gaston, the macho buffoon obsessed with Belle, while Josh Gad is his manservant. Eventually, Belle ends up trapped in a castle by a Beast (Dan Stevens) who was cursed to look all furry and ugly for being rude years ago. Finding true love is his only hope of retaining his old prettiness. It seems impossible thanks to that whole beast thing. On the plus side, all of his old servants are now lovable living bits of furniture to help him through the days – including a ridiculously-accented candlestick (Ewan McGregor), a bumbling clock (Ian McKellen), and a sweet cockney teapot (Emma Thompson). Together, the living household might just be able to help Belle love the Beast. Think it might happen? Spoiler: Yes, definitely.

Yeah, the story is the same, as are the big songs and plenty of the dialogue as well. In a way, it’s like the world’s most expensive fan film homage. To be fair, it’s put together well enough. The production is absolutely lavish. Both Watson and Evans bring dignity and playful humor to their roles, which helps provide the illusion of three dimensions. Director Bill Condon (‘Dreamgirls’ and the last two ‘Twilight’ piles of trash) has a certain flair with set-pieces that ensures the movie moves along at a quick pace while always looking spectacular. McGregor, McKellen, Thompson and company all clearly have fun recreating their iconic comedic relief roles. Everyone tried to make this live-action restaging as good as it could be, despite the utter superfluousness of the production.

Some new additions push the previously brisk 84-minute cartoon to over two hours. A few extra songs do little beyond proving how beautifully written the music in the original was. Some added backstory to Belle and the Beast’s past feels needlessly dark in an attempt to make the project more serious for reasons best known to the filmmakers. These additions add little beyond running time. The only nice new material comes by deliberately diversifying the cast, and giving us a few scenes to explain why Belle suddenly falls for the Beast beyond Stockholm Syndrome. Both are welcome even if they slow down the momentum.

More than anything else, this live-action remake serves as a reminder of just how good the original movie was and the benefits of animation. As pretty as Condon’s film might be to behold, it doesn’t match the hand-drawn beauty or the stylized choreography and character design only possible in the animation medium. In particular, the character designs don’t hold a candle (no pun intended) to the original.

All that being said, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ 2.0 is a good time for what it is. Those who are deeply nostalgic for the ’90s classic will get all of the warm and fuzzy feelings they’re hoping for, while young audiences unfamiliar with the original will likely love what they’re served. Even though there’s no real need for this movie to exist, it will be undoubtedly be successful and likely naysayers like myself will be dismissed for clinging too dearly to the past. I doubt anyone could watch both movies and consider the new one better. (Not to mention the fact that Jean Cocteau’s genuinely magical 1946 take on the tale remains the best version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on film to date.) However, it’s also hard to look at this movie and consider it a failure. It works. It’s fun. It’s pretty. It’s well made. It’s just unnecessary.

20 comments

  1. NJScorpio

    I both hope for, and cringe at the idea of, a live action ‘Aladdin’ movie.

    They couldn’t do a carbon copy of the original, as that would result in an actor attempting to replicate Robin William’s performance. Based on her performance as Dory, I’d suggest Ellen, and have the Genie be rewritten as female. That way it would be a similarly fun performance, but not a disrespectful replacement of Williams.

    I’d also be afraid some elements may be “washed” over.

    • Chaz

      Word is already out that they are casting for it, looking for Unknown middle eastern people for the roles, will have to wait and see what they come up with, Robin Williams as the Genie is probably the only character that you just cant recast out of pretty much any Disney movie, his role was so iconic and no other character, I can personally think of, holds a candle to his performance

      • NJScorpio

        Since it was voice work to begin with, perhaps they could just rip his entire performance, and use that within the movie, voicing a CGI Genie. Not sure how well that would work, or how creepy it would be, but just a thought.

        I’m glad to hear they are casting a middle eastern actor as Aladdin. After ‘Jungle Book’, I should have expected them to be good about this…but there is that part of me that pictures a version Aladdin starring Andrew Garfield.

      • The female genie idea is a good take. With something that iconic, you can’t go carbon copy and you need something new.

        However, I saw Aladdin on Broadway and the original genie, J.M. Iglehart, paid a great homage to Williams’ performance AND put his own spin on it. I’d be happy seeing (er, hearing?) him as the genie. He looked the part and felt the part. They might go that route with the film: Broadway influenced. Iago was an actual person, there was no Abu but instead Aladdin had three friends.

        Problem is, how far do you stray from the “source” to carve your own path before the audience becomes offended that you changed too much? Most audiences want a carbon copy, sadly, and are happier with a shallow imitation than a new take that strays from what they’re comfortable with.

        Here’s where Disney is brilliant. These new live action versions are good enough to bring audiences in to make a profit. They don’t stick, but it triggers nostalgia. I’d love to see the statistics on how much sales of the original beauty and the beast have increased leading up to and after the release of this live action version. It’s a ripple effect that keeps bringing in the money.

      • I don’t know, they did a decent job recasting him in the DTV movies and the television show. No, it was not as good as Robin Williams, but it worked. I don’t think the issue is if anyone else could play the genie, my question is if it is too soon after his death for people to accept him being replaced

  2. Elizabeth

    I haven’t seen B&B yet so I’ll reserve judgment, however I feel compelled to point something out. All movies are unneccesary, all music, all art is unnecessary. However, without music, art, entertainment, life is almost not worth living. Art, including motion pictures, has a power to uplift, to communicate beyond words, to stimulate change, to make us laugh and cry. As much as I’m hesitant to accept Ms. Watson as Belle, or might dislike any movie or book, I understand that it might be just what someone else needs. I don’t think its necessary to say one is better than the other, its not a competition, its simply a reimagining of a Classic for a new generation. It is most definitely not a “direct to video cash grab.” I think the problem a lot of people are having these days with movies is that they feel compelled to compare them and come up with which one is best. Take Disney princesses for example. Okay, so the first few weren’t exactly feminist icons, but consider their time period of story and the time period they were released. They still have something of value to say. They all have flaws and that’s exactly what makes them relatable. So, while I haven’t seen the new B&B, I will try to give it a chance. Ariel will always be my first and my favorite, however Belle did give little seven year old me “warm fuzzies” because there was a princess who looked like me, who read and wanted adventure like me, who was smart, and who was picked on for being different. That’s not “warm fuzzies,” that’s letting kids know that they aren’t alone and that’s extremely powerful… and definitely necessary.

    • Lia

      Snow White is my personal favorite and clearly she is about as far away from some sort of feminist icon as possible. I haven’t seen this live action remake either, but I’m super excited to see it tomorrow (or maybe today if I can’t restrain myself). The music is fabulous; I have the soundtrack and the weakest song is the redone title track with Ariana Grande and John Legend. Emma Watson may be a weaker singer than the original, but she gets the job done. And obviously it looks gorgeous, just like Cinderella did. I loved the live action Cinderella which I felt was a tremendous improvement over the animated movie. I doubt this movie will necessarily be an improvement but it should still be a great film and curious to see what elements of the animated movie and stage show made it into this movie.

      • Timcharger

        Huh… Julian, we probably could of guessed what cosplay you are into. So it’s officially confirmed.

        Reading Elizabeth’s 20-30 sentences, most wouldn’t have focused those 4 words: “who looked like me.”

        Here’s a cold shower. Someone in a gold dress that might cool your engines:
        https://youtu.be/nu4Pzsolyhg?t=7m20s

          • Timcharger

            4 words that were carefully cultivated, like how titles are written. Like how: beauty killed the beast? Yes, I do focus on stuff like that. Especially when it’s clear the writer gave it much thought.

            In a paragraph about how necessary it is to have empowering characters for little girls, about how well-read, how adventurous, how smart, how different Belle is. Yeah, I wouldn’t have focused on similarities in a gold dress.

            Julian and I have commented to each other many times before. So I took liberty in being able to jest with him.

            And the video doesn’t convey a tone of humor? Not a mean, mocking taunt. But a brings-a-smile-to-your-face kind of humor. For a jest, it’s on the nice side.

          • I wasn’t offended, and I do realize how shallow my comment may have seemed in a post about the importance of role models for girls. Apologies to all involved, especially Elizabeth.

          • Timcharger

            Hey Julian, gotta admit, your avatar picture adds an extra chuckle to your golden dress question.

  3. I enjoyed the movie. It was good (although I hesitate to say great), and we had a lot of fun. I will probably pick it up when it gets its eventual home media release.

    I must say, though, I wonder if it would have been as enjoyable without it being a direct clone. I would have to say that the nostalgia factor probably had more to play than anything. There are other Beauty and the Beast movies (the French one that just came out a couple of years ago, for example) that are very well done, and I would suggest people go see it if they want something different. It is quite enjoyable. But if you want something fun, this works fantasticaly.

    And Emma Watson made a FANTASTIC Belle. I don’t think any other actress could have been custom made enough for that role. Her role in the Harry Potter movies, as well as her looks and her age made her perfect for the role.

    One thing I did like is they addressed many plot holes and issues in the animated movie (go watch Honest Trailers of the animated film, then go see this one back to back – it almost makes me wonder if Honest Trailers saw an advance screening of the live action one). Them fleshing out the characters a bit more was highly entertaining.

    This movie was a good 4/5 for me

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