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Beauty and the Beast (2017) Movie Review

Beauty and the Beast (2017) movie poster Beauty and the Beast

Theatrical Release: March 17, 2017 / Running Time: 129 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Bill Condon / Writers: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay); Linda Woolverton (1991 animated film screenplay)

Cast: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Josh Gad (LeFou), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Hattie Morahan (Agathe/Enchantress), Haydn Gwynne (Clothilde), Gerard Horan (Jean the Potter), Ray Fearon (P่re Robert), Ewan McGregor (Lumi่re), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Nathan Mack (Chip), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette), Clive Rowe (Cuisiner), Thomas Padden (Chapeau), Gizmo (Froufrou)

Songs: "Aria", "Belle", "How Does a Moment Last Forever (Music Box)", "Belle (reprise)", "Gaston", "Be Our Guest", "Days in the Sun", "Something There", "How Does a Moment Last Forever (Montmartre)", "Beauty and the Beast", "Evermore", "The Mob Song"

 

The Walt Disney Company doesn't have the biggest movie library around, but they might just have the most beloved, particularly when we zero in on the animated features they have released on a near-annual basis since 1937. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the studio capitalized on that tradition of perennial bestsellers with direct-to-video sequels.
Making a lot more money than they cost, the sequels had the "business" part down, but hadn't quite mastered the "show" part, with many critics and discerning fans taking issue with their frugality and lack of imagination.

Having mostly gotten out of the DTV business after John Lasseter came aboard, the studio now has a better way of getting new revenue out of the old classics that so many have seen (and already purchased multiple times): live-action remakes. You can trace the tradition back to 1996's hit 101 Dalmatians starring Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil, but that would overstate its impact. No, the live-action remakes have emerged as a force under Bob Iger's leadership where brands are king. Disney has Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Disneynature, the inspirational true sports dramas, and, of course, the still thriving flagship animation department. Now, nearly as formidable as the most prosperous of those classes is the live-action remake. There was Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, the Sleeping Beauty reimagining Maleficent, 2015's Cinderella, and last year's nearly billion dollar grossing The Jungle Book.

Clearly more anticipated than any of those is this year's remake, Beauty and the Beast, adapted from the decorated 1991 feature and its long-running Broadway adaptation that many a millennial adores. It's unreasonable to expect this highly-awaited, big-budget, effects-heavy musical fairy tale to earn any less than the lucrative remakes that have come before it. It is virtually guaranteed that this finally dethrones Grease as the box office king among live-action musicals after a reign of nearly forty inflation-ignoring years. Just because a movie is a lock to sell an obscene amount of tickets, though, is no confirmation that it will be any good. Look no further than Burton's Alice for an instance of great numbers not being backed up by acclaim.

Beast (Dan Stevens) lets Belle (Emma Watson) marvel at his impressive library in 2017's "Beauty and the Beast."

Fortunately, though, the new Beauty and the Beast is an admirable and relatively enchanting film. It is one that I suspect those who love Disney's 1991 animated classic should be able to appreciate just as much as this critic who only likes it did.

Not the most likely or inspiring choice for the job, Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn) takes the helm of this $160 million production with a script attributed to Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the film adaptation of Rent) and Disney DTV veteran Evan Spiliotopoulos (whose more recent credits include the maligned not-quite-tentpoles Hercules starring Dwayne Johnson and The Huntsman: Winter's War).

In a cunning bit of casting, Emma Watson, forever known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, portrays Belle, the bookish and kind-hearted young woman who doesn't fit in her provincial French village. Belle takes care of her father, Maurice (a solid Kevin Kline), a sweet, widowed tinkerer some regard as kind of a crackpot. As you know, Maurice gets lost in the woods and ends up a lifetime prisoner in the castle of the former prince cursed to spend his days as a furry, horned beast (Dan Stevens). Looking to rescue him, Belle finds him and switches places with him.

The enchanted objects of the Beast's castle, including Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and Plumette, are naturally brought to life by computer animation.

As you also know, though Belle and the Beast get off to a rough start, we gradually notice there's something there that wasn't there before. Not just Stockholm Syndrome, but love and true love at that, the kind that could break a witch's curse. Of course, the Beast's castle is occupied by an assortment of his former colleagues who are now reduced to magical object form.
There's Lumiere the candelabra (voiced by Ewan McGregor, one of the only ones putting on a French accent), Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen), teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and her teacup son Chip (Nathan Mack), and dentally-challenged pianist turned organ Cadenza (Stanley Tucci).

While Belle is confined, we get to repeatedly venture outside the Beast's castle, where the cocky, narcissistic, and macho Gaston (Luke Evans) has his heart set on winning over the only girl in town not interested in him. He sees believing Maurice's far-fetched tale as the potential key to winning Belle's hand. Forever at his side is LeFou (Josh Gad, best known to Disney fans as the voice of Frozen snowman Olaf), whose enamorment with Gaston is being overstated in news articles this week declaring him Disney's first openly gay character.

Beauty gives us new renditions of all of the animated feature's famous songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, including the heroine-establishing "Belle", the titular Oscar winner performed over ballroom dance, and the lively, show-stopping "Be Our Guest." It also includes some new songs with music by Menken and lyrics by The Lion King's Tim Rice, including Maurice's "How Does a Moment Last Forever" (later reprised by Belle) and the Beast's "Evermore." These additions as well as various original exchanges and moments do enough to distinguish this Beauty from Disney's previous one, which this runs one and a half times as long as.

His sets sight on marrying Belle, Gaston (Luke Evans) tells his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) how it is.

Though expanded and sometimes reinterpreted,
this "live-action" Beauty (which relies extensively on digital effects and animation) is every bit as much of an appealing crowdpleaser as the source film. It is a cornucopia of sensory delights, just as 2015's Cinderella was, but there isn't quite the d้jเ vu quality of that film and last year's well-made Jungle Book. You don't leave Beauty asking "Why bother making this?" or accepting "Money" as the cynical only answer to that question. Condon and his talented crew are able to take the 2D visuals of the cartoon and turn them into a rich, vast, and believable three-dimensional universe (even when viewed, as my screening was, in 2D).

Meanwhile, the cast are able to give these characters unique personalities distinct from what even the giants of animation driving Disney's '90s renaissance could craft. Whether or not Watson's singing voice wins you over, her performance is very consistent with the brown-eyed, brown-haired Belle that has long ranked as both the definitive take on the character and an essential member of the Disney Princess canon. You're not very surprised that Watson, so charming in the Potter films, can carry a big movie all on her own. But she doesn't even quite have to do that because the supporting cast assembled around her is also well-suited for their parts. Evans, not really versed in this type of thing (even if you remember him from The Hobbit sequels), is agreeably charismatic and conceited as the film's slightly unconventional villain. He does more to impress than second-billed Stevens, who at times you wish had less of a CGI and more of a makeup and prosthetics presence, no matter how challenging and time-consuming the latter would have been.

If The Jungle Book could win the Visual Effects Oscar nearly a year after opening and Cinderella could land a Costume Design nomination a year earlier, then it stands to reason that this opulent and no doubt commercially potent Beauty and the Beast can be remembered in some technical categories next award season. Memory is also the only thing potentially keeping Watson from getting a Golden Globe nomination in the historically uncompetitive Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical category. Basically, these live-action remakes stand to be recognized in a number of the categories where their animated counterparts never had a chance. But Beauty and the Beast isn't made for awards or purely for the steep financial rewards it will reap. And that alone is reason enough to enjoy it.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Before I Fall • Logan • The Lego Batman Movie • The Great Wall • La La Land
The Jungle Book (2016) • Cinderella (2015) • Alice in Wonderland (2010) • 101 Dalmatians (1996) • Maleficent • Enchanted • Into the Woods
Beauty and the Beast (1946) | Directed by Bill Condon: The Fifth Estate • Dreamgirls
Emma Watson: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 • Regression | Luke Evans: The Girl on the Train • Fast & Furious 6
Josh Gad: Frozen | Kevin Kline: The Hunchback of Notre Dame • Last Vegas | Dan Stevens: Vamps

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Reviewed March 3, 2017.



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