2/10 Everyone’s tired of the endless stream of sequels, remakes and adaptations coming out of Hollywood these days, but they don’t have to be bad. Remakes can make an old story new again, or tell it in a completely different light.
Or, as with “Beauty and the Beast,” do nothing of the sort.
“Beauty and the Beast” follows Belle (Emma Watson), a chipper French maiden who longs for more than her provincial life. She gets more than she bargained for when she ends up prisoner to a monstrous beast (Dan Stevens). He and his servants and his castle itself were cursed long ago to ugliness until he could learn to love and be loved. At the insistent pushing of his candelabra, Lumière (Ewan McGregor), the beast starts looking at Belle as the woman he could eventually learn that with.
There is absolutely no reason to watch this version of “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s an inferior, note–for–note performance of a classic movie you’ve seen a dozen times and is still a staple home video. This adaptation has little new to offer — and it’s not like this production wanted to offer anything new either.
It’s a sad, sad state these Disney remakes are in. What started with the runaway success of Tim Burton’s imaginative “Alice in Wonderland” adaptation in 2010, which was just the sixth movie ever to make $1 billion internationally, has devolved into a steady stream of boring, safe re-enactments, offering nothing but nostalgia for a movie it’d be more worthwhile to just re-watch.
For those who are willing to venture out and drop $20 on a hot dog and popcorn instead of a home-cooked meal for this, they will be met with a version of “Beauty and the Beast” that is visually and emotionally dull. It’s got that low–contrast, devil–may–care composition that plagues contemporary Hollywood, and they didn’t seem to know what they were going for with the creature design.
It’s a very poor directing job by Bill Condon, who has classic songs and some splendid sets, but doesn’t get the most out of them. The first musical number is in a sweeping, life-sized replica of Villeneuve, France chalk–full of dancing extras, but baffling shot choices mean we never get to really see it. When Belle first walks into her room and the castle library, which she calls beautiful and magnificent, the audience is given the same rushed circular shot around the room and the apparent beauty of the space is never addressed again. They’re not even in focus!
Emotionally, Belle and the beast aren’t remotely on the same wavelength. Watson delivers a vaguely disinterested performance, where Stevens takes his emotions just a little too far at every opportunity. It feels like most of the screen time goes to Lumière, who won’t shut up about the conditions of the castle’s curse, an insistence that undermines the entire romance.
“Beauty and the Beast” suffers mightily by comparison to the original, not just because of its inferior quality, but also because of the new touches they stuffed in. There are some new songs and subplots that stand out as clutter that the film would be stronger without. They’re surely less offensive to someone less familiar with the original, but did we really need an entire other song to establish that Belle isn’t interested in Gaston?
On the “explicitly gay moment” that caused such news at home, the movie to be harshly rated in Russia and banned in Malaysia, there isn’t much of one. There’s certainly no kiss, and more importantly, the explicitly gay character is the butt of every joke, and his effeminacy is still treated as one of the worst things a man can display in the movie. Anyone coming out to support LGBT representation should steer clear of this blandly homophobic movie.
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