Beauty And The Beast Review

The Plot

In the familiar tale as old as time, a beautiful girl finds herself trapped in an enchanted castle with a selfish prince who has been turned into a Beast. Seizing the opportunity the castle’s magical servants try their best to fan the unlikely flames of love between the mismatched pair in order to break the spell that binds them all.

The Good

Beauty and The Beast is a very faithful and inevitably lucrative adaptation of one of Disney’s most beloved and universally celebrated modern animated classics. The timeless core story remains fundamentally compelling and romantically satisfying.

Emma Watson proves her vocal prowess with a strong musical performance as heroine Belle.  Meanwhile fellow British star Luke Evans in particular is a magnificently boisterous fit for the brutish Gaston, the self-proclaimed village heartthrob determined to claim Belle’s hand in marriage by any means necessary and in spite of her extreme reluctance. The further vocal talents of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson pour fresh life into their already familiar characters, helping this new version to recapture much of the magical charm of the previous cartoon.

Those with especially fond memories of the animated film will welcome the new film’s faithful parade of all its key moments and songs. Gaston’s ode to himself, the enchanting ‘Be Our Guest’ and the film’s memorable romantic refrain ‘Tale as Old as Time’ are among the iconic highlights painstakingly recreated with live actors and photo-realistic modern animation.

The new film boasts a joyously colourful production value and all-star cast that few but Disney is truly capable of offering. Those that truly love the original will be delighted to see so little changed and to have a fresh chance to introduce the magic of Disney to their own children and a new generation of fans.

The Bad

Disney continues to unapologetically plunder its extensive back catalogue of classic animated stories for the guaranteed box office success of live action adaptations. While their Sleeping Beauty re-imagining Maleficent at least made efforts to approach the overly familiar material form a fresh perspective, this new version of Beauty and The Beast literally only serves as a scene by scene copy of the original fan favourite.

It’s also worth noting that although this is indeed ostensibly a ‘live action’ version, as the Beast and the rest of the castle’s enchanted inhabitants are actually fully CGI creations the truth is most of the films key scenes are actually largely or even fully animated. As a key example the crowd pleasing ‘Be Our Guest’ dining table musical number remains entirely a work of colourful animation with the solitary exception of Emma Watson’s awed expression. Given the exquisite perfection of the original cartoon version it is questionable how much a more photorealistic animated version truly adds to proceedings.

The film’s occasional efforts to slip in some extra social justice themes are either awkwardly heavy handed or so barely noticeable that they remain utterly trivial. Belle being bullied by the French townsfolk for trying to teach a young girl to read is an awkward attempt to openly polish the film’s feminist credentials.

In contrast the supposed gay subplot surrounding Josh Gad’s turn as Gaston’s faithful sidekick Le Fou turns out to have been bizarrely overhyped. Amid bold talk of a gay love scene that saw the film banned outright or given restrictive releases in some countries the reality is literally a split second of incidental background dancing. Only the filmmakers will know if more meaningful material was filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.

While much like the animated original the film does much make frequent jokes at the expense of Le Fou’s simpering admiration for Gaston, this is typical treatment  for villain’s comedy sidekicks and certainly nothing as ground-breaking and controversial as audiences may expect in the wake of so much utterly unnecessary media hype.

Live action adaptation is also not without other specific draw backs. Cartoon films frequently get away with having stories set in 17th Century France but voiced by a muddled bag of Anglo-American accents and thick Gallic stereotypes. Unfortunately in the real world as opposed to a purely cartoon creation those inexplicable juxtapositions become all the more jarring.

Emma Watson slips in the occasional Bonjour Monsieur with all the linguistic subtlety of a nervous GCSE student, but her clipped British tones are still pure Hermione Granger. It’s a distracting contrast with the quintessentially French exuberance of for example Ewan McGregor’s singing Candelabra.

While McGregor, Luke Evans and the rest of the all-star supporting cast relish in their roles in truth the central paring of Emma Watson’s Belle and Dan Steven’s full CGI Beast are far less successful embodiments of the beloved animated characters. Neither is an especially good visual fit for the roles and although Steven’s can at least blame animators for changing the Beast’s appearance Watson has less excuse for a mostly stilted performance.

Though Watson’s impressive singing voice is more than adequate for the musical numbers her acting style has sadly not progressed much from the awkward gasping theatricality and blank expressions evidenced throughout the Harry Potter franchise.

The Ugly Truth

While overall the film will likely delight younger audiences experiencing this iconic story for the first time, older fans will almost certainly be left somewhat underwhelmed by what is at best merely a mostly competent approximation of their most special childhood cartoon memories.

Review by Russell Nelson

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