As Disney continues to humanize its cartoon vault, lucky filmmakers put their own spins on timeless classics. Kenneth Branagh made a rather wonderful dance out of Cinderella, Jon Favreau knocked The Jungle Book out of the park, and now we have Bill Condon’s Beauty And The Beast – arguably one of Disney’s most famous titles. A story of damning sorcery, furry princes and how true love can save an empire. Dashing fairy tale material, propelled by animation to recreate personified objects and one reclusive Beast. No sweat after The Jungle Book, right? Well, let’s just say you’d be surprised. No doubt entertained, but surprised nonetheless.
I’m assuming you all know the plot, correct? Emma Watson stars as Belle, the small-village girl who finds herself imprisoned by a wretched creature, “The Beast” (Dan Stevens). Er, maybe “imprisoned” isn’t the right descriptor? OK, she’s imprisoned *at first* – but then a talking candlestick (Lumiere, “played” by Ewan McGregor) offers her more lavish boarding. That, and freedom inside the castle.
You see, it turns out that the Beast was once a prince with extravagant tastes, but his superficial desires bring upon a horrible curse. If the Beast doesn’t find – and share – true love before a magic rose loses all its petals, he and his trapped caretakers will cease to exist. Belle’s presence is a beacon of hope for Lumiere, Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and the other talking objects, who push two destined lovers together. Before long, Belle starts to notice a sweetness behind Beast’s eyes – could she save her untamed host and all who reside in his castle? Or will Gaston (Luke Evans) ruin the day by hunting his competition for Belle’s hand in marriage.
Those of you fluent in Disney prose shouldn’t expect any surprises by way of narration, much like how songs rarely differentiate from classic tunes. It’s a faithful adaptation with every step inside Beast’s castle, honoring 1991’s hand-drawn masterpiece through steady recreation. Parts are well-enough casted and production erects a massive mansion – there’s nothing wrong with Condon’s retelling. Fans will be serviced with charming live-action appeal, much like how previous live-action efforts have rehashed the depth of Disney lore for new generations.
Just, there’s something missing this time around. A spark of life that ignited even a more obscure reboot like Pete’s Dragon.
For starters, animation doesn’t exactly glisten like Favreau’s awe-inspiring rainforest rendering. Don’t expect practical makeup on Dan Stevens. He’s CGI’ed the whole damn film, and sticks out like a sore pixelated creature thumb. His flowing locks, fangs, even fancy dress clothes are created on computer screens, making for a less-than-fluid inclusion. As Belle dances with Beast, there’s noticeable rigidness between woman and monster. Mainly because one of them doesn’t actually exist in reality, and Watson has trouble selling her flat-faced counterpart.
Now, that’s not to say Beast’s comrades are also poorly designed. Pontificating souls trapped inside household objects move freely, and mostly without worry. You’ll be dazzled by Lumiere’s leading of “Be Our Guest” as Belle just tries to eat her dinner (STOP SINGING AND ACTUALLY SERVE HER!), then entertained by a fight against torch-waving townsfolk. Cogsworth and Lumiere showcase more invested chemistry than Belle and Beast. Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack) are adorable together. Stanley Tucci – well, actually, Stanley Tucci is way more entertaining in human form, flailing around his grand piano like an actor pretending his fake little musician heart out. And don’t forget Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Audra McDonald, either. Both play non-inanimate-objects pretty darn well.
Guess what! We also have our first openly gay Disney character! If by openly gay you mean still hidden underneath a veil of ambiguity? Le Fou (Josh Gad) tails Gaston like an enamored lap-dog, but he’s not pining over his dashing master. Gaston even asks Le Fou about his experiences with woman, setting up a prime moment to hint at alternative choices – but Le Fou brushes off the jest with a line about being too clingy.
Wait, this is the “first openly gay” character we’re supposed to praise? A thin characteristic of flamboyancy that’s noncommittal until a single two-second dance during the film’s closing number? That’s Disney’s bone to the LGBT community? Josh Gad seen dancing with another man? Never a verbal mention or confirmation – just a quick glimpse, so bases can be covered. Le sigh.
As for Condon’s man-girl-monster love triangle, Luke Evans’ Gaston might be my favorite performance. Watson carries herself as big-thinker Belle, but seems better suited for a role with a little more cynicism and bite. Stevens is buried under a thick mane of fake hair, but does belt a bellowing solo number (although Josh Groban is also listed on the actual soundtrack?). Then there’s Evans, the smarmy alpha whose predatorial charms spice hunter machismo with villainous intent. He’s not the barrel-chested caricature once doodled, but a more human take on an otherwise exaggerated meanie.
The thing is, Evans has so much fun yucking it up as a full-of-himself anti-prince, especially during his barroom duet with Le Fou. He’s not someone we’re supposed to like, yet audiences will transform into one of those wigged bimbos who pine over his every move. Oh Gaston, so dreamy! So debonair! Disney unleashes the Luke Evans we’ve been waiting for (High-Rise wasn’t enough) – a true beast of masculine bravado.
It’s a bit overlong and underwhelming (Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos aren’t very forthcoming with important plot details), but 2017’s Beauty And The Beast is still enough to entertain wow-ready Disney audiences. How can you deny Cogsworth bursting out of a miniature Taj Mahal mid-song? Or snowy dreamscapes torn from the pages of natural poetry? When the film isn’t hampered by a lackluster beastie or stiff interactions, we can buy into the House of Mouse’s live-action craze. It’s not exactly the Belle of the ball, but it’s no expressionless fable, either.
Just ignore the little stuff, like why Mrs. Potts forgets her husband (quickly glance in opening details), and things of this nature. Listen to the music, and laugh along with Chip’s daring tea-cup antics. Disney still manages to make for winning experiences, even when hampered by certain shortcomings.
Beauty And The Beast lacks some of the astonishing visual prowess of previous Disney live-action remakes, but still sings and dances with enjoyable style.
Beauty And The Beast Review