Beauty and the Beast (2017) – A Millennial’s Movie Review
Tale as old as Time
Beauty and the Beast is Disney’s latest live-action adaptation of a classic animated property, following the likes of the Jungle Book, Cinderella and Maleficent. Directed by Bill Condon, and starring a plethora of acting talent including Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and more, Beauty and the Beast tells the timeless story of Belle (Watson), a young woman who craves more adventure than what her French provincial town can provide. When her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is captured by a Beast (Stevens) and locked up in his dark, foreboding castle, Belle attempts to rescue her father, but loses her freedom in the process as she too is held in the castle. And so begins a journey of discovery, adventure and love as Belle uncovers the mystery behind the beast and his castle of living household objects.
What holds this Beauty and the Beast remake back is the incredible influence of the original 1991 animated film, the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. The degree to which Beauty and the Beast is beloved is something that The Jungle Book and Cinderella did not have to deal with, though all films have their fans. Thus, a lot more hope and excitement is banking on the critical success of 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, as fans will hope that the film follows in the footsteps of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella rather than the latest Maleficent or Alice in Wonderland films. Director Bill Condon, known for directing Dreamgirls, The Fifth Estate and both Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn films, has shown his mettle in making musical films, so one would hope that a property such as Beauty and the Beast would be safe in his hands. But with the last Disney live-action adaptation being critically panned (Alice: Through the Looking Glass), will Beauty and the Beast end up with rosy ratings, or is this tale as old as time simply outdated?
If you loved 2015’s Cinderella, it’ll be hard not to love 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. Through Walt Disney Studios’ big-budget production design and visual effects, the film takes the 1991 original and updates it to the filmmaking quality and societal norms of today. The acting ensemble puts not a toe out of line in an incredible showcase of Hollywood extravagance, while the screenplay surprisingly improves upon the animated version in certain ways. It almost exclusively follows the beats of the original, so if you were looking for a unique and different take, then you’d be severely disappointed. While there isn’t really anything significantly new, Disney’s ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach has worked in the past, and certainly works again for Beauty and the Beast.
Song as old as Rhyme
Overall, there is something about Beauty and the Beast that sweeps you off your feet in the same way any Disney musical should. It’s magical, it’s fantastical, and it has enough wondrous elements to lure you into its gorgeously designed world. From its detailed sets apparent from the very first scene to the notes of Alan Menken’s familiar scores and soundtracks accompanying you throughout the journey, Beauty and the Beast will likely be an emotional time machine for many older viewers, while being a worthy introduction of the story to younger audiences. The film differs from the original animation in that it is a full 45 minutes longer, which is unfortunately quite obvious if you’re already familiar with the 84 minutes the animated film had to offer. But this gives Bill Condon and his crew more time to treat the plot, pacing and characters with care, especially since certain sequences in the animation would not translate well to live-action if they were completely copied. This treatment becomes apparent in the backstories, extra scenes and even extra songs established for Belle and the Beast, which are additions to its predecessor. These additions address some of the ‘plot holes’ present in the 1991 version, helping the story make more sense while simultaneously providing the main characters with more depth and motivation for modern audiences to latch onto. And while they sometimes make the story less streamlined, they are tonally consistent enough to keep the viewer’s attention.
Beauty and the Beast is one of those films which inspires one to campaign for a ‘Best Casting Director’ category at the Oscars. Casting director Lucy Bevan’s choices combined with Bill Condon’s directing and the actors’ personal take on their roles has created a strikingly charismatic ensemble of characters. Luke Evans’ Gaston, Josh Gad’s Lefou, Ewan McGregor’s Lumière and Emma Thompson’s Mrs Potts are only a handful of the solid casting decisions made in Beauty and the Beast, each artist thriving in their role as if they were born for it. The always-beautiful Emma Watson is both believable and likeable as Belle, although a caring, resourceful, and intelligent young woman with a passion for books while living in a castle is only a wand away from sounding oddly familiar. Meanwhile, Dan Stevens pulls off a good performance as the Beast, having to act in a motion capture suit as well as dance on stilts. While no one here is winning an Academy Award, it is their combined efforts and passion towards the project that makes the film such an entertaining experience.
Ever Just the Same
While they are minor changes here and there, the rest of the film really does stay true to the original, with almost the same plot, same songs and even camera angles that mimic the scenes from the original shot by shot. This is more of an asterisk to the film rather than a flaw, but where the film’s real flaws show is in the technical aspects within the Beast’s castle. The rooms and halls in the castle are elaborately designed with a variety of rich colours and textures, but the camera moves too quickly at times while the frame rate is too low for the viewer to marvel at the digitally-rendered graphics. Additionally, it was also disappointing to note that many backgrounds in the rooms were blurred in favour of a bokeh-type effect, putting into question the actual level of detail and effort that went into designing those rooms. This would be a nitpick in any other film, but after the Jungle Book, the bar for Disney’s visual effects departments has been raised higher than ever, and unfortunately the visual effects are too uneven in Beauty and the Beast to be satisfactory. Even within the same film, the effects during the ‘Be Our Guest’ sequence is far superior to the first castle library scene.
Many heads undoubtedly turned when Disney announced plans to remake a live-action Mulan, Aladdin, and Lion King movie, and while there is always an argument against remaking such animated classics, Beauty and the Beast is yet another film which supports Disney’s intention of retelling their beloved stories to a new generation of people. The film represents proof yet again that a familiar script and story can still be entertaining as long as its execution is masterful and the talent involved is full of passion. While the film industry is constantly evolving, some stories are constant. With this film and the others before it, studios will likely see the many opportunities to retell the same classic stories as a constant. Whether that is a good thing or a detriment to the industry both financially and creatively is a debate for another day. For now, we have the opportunity to celebrate the rebirth of one of Disney’s most iconic stories, this tale as old as time, a tale that in our hearts, remains timeless.
Overall score: 8.0/10