REVIEW: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ falls short of total enchantment
I don’t know where you come down on the subject of movie remakes, but I feel remakes should be reserved for movies that weren’t big hits or widely accepted as classics. Those movies can be improved upon with new technology and filmmaking tricks. Classic movies, films that can’t be improved upon with the application of new movie magic, should be left alone.
Of course the suits that run Hollywood studios don’t see it like that, so we keep getting classic movies repackaged, dumbed down and foisted on us, often with less than satisfying results (*cough* “Ghostbusters 2016” *cough*).
That hasn’t deterred Disney, which seems hell-bent on building a new financial empire out of the old furniture of their past glories. Its latest effort is a faithful live action take on its 1991 animated classic, “Beauty and the Beast.”
And, man, is it ever two-plus hours of mostly unremarkable movie-making.
Here’s the story for those who might be unfamiliar with the original movie: Beautiful Belle (Emma Watson) is taken prisoner by the Beast (Dan Stevens), and anthropomorphic bison who must find love before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose. Failure would doom the Beast and everyone who lives in his castle to spend forever as nonhuman forms.
Belle shows up, and hope is rekindled as Belle and the Beast grow closer. Enter Gaston (Luke Evans), the ultimate alpha-male dirtbag, who has his sights set on making Belle his wife. The conflict between the three of them plays out the way you think it will. After all, you have seen this movie before.
“Beauty” has some things going for it. For one thing, it’s a beautiful-looking movie. The sets are impressive, and the nonhuman characters covered in ornate little details. It’s almost distracting.
The side characters are pretty great, too. Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellan) are especially fun. Of course, that has a lot to do with the fact that it’s Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan. And Evans looks like he’s having a blast playing Gaston. It must be true what they say about playing a villain being more fun.
And the songs are still enjoyable. Big numbers like “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” hit that happy spot in your brain that makes you smile. You may even find yourself singing along.
Unfortunately, all that good stuff is cancelled out by the bad, the worse and the straight-up lame. Paramount in the list of this movie’s flaws are the lead performances. Watson is decent actress, although she looks lost at times here. On top of that, she is NOT much of a singer. Her voice lacks power and punch, and much of her singing sounds pitch corrected. Her deficiencies as a singer are especially pronounced when you hear cast members like Evans, who can really belt it.
Stevens is equally lackluster as the Beast. He’s a little too subdued to be scary and he could have used a little more depth. And the visual look of the character often isn’t convincing, with the Beast looking too much like stuffed toy in too many scenes.
Director Bill Condon does a competent job but fails to elevate the story above anything more than a what comes off as a cover band version of the 1991 movie. He tries to capture moments that echo the iconic moments from the earlier film, but they don’t quite get there. For instance, the iconic ballroom scene from the animated movie becomes a phony electronic light show. Things aren’t helped by a screenplay that is eye-rollingly stupid at times. Maybe another few drafts were required.
But the biggest problem with “Beauty and the Beast” is the feeling that the magic from the animated movie has been removed and replaced with technology. The digital work is beautiful and impressive, but it somehow feels less alive than the hand-drawn animation. I’m not sure why that is, because digital animation requires just as much skill and effort as hand-drawn work. But this “Beauty” feels lifeless, and honestly doesn’t do enough to justify its own existence.