Hollywood is conspicuously resourceful in finding ways to extract money from movie-goers.
Disney/Buena Vista is among the biggest practitioners of the art of the steal, with the studio’s latest and perhaps greatest moneymaker the reinvention — I wouldn’t say re-imagining, since that implies copious creative thought and planning — of its iconic animated films as live-action blockbusters. The stories remain mostly the same, but with flesh-and-blood actors in the roles.
Directed by Bill Condon. Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. A Disney release playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Levis Commons, Bowling Green, and Mall of Monroe. Rated PG for some action, violence, peril, and frightening images. Running time: 129 min.
Critic’s rating: ★★★
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, and Josh Gad.
Oddly enough, while having physical actors reduces the animation percentage by half, CGI remains the star.
Putting aside the necessity and even validity of these films, the question then, is are they even worth the effort? Judging by the creative — not box-office — success of the first three of these films, 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, 2014’s Maleficent, and to a lesser degree 2015’s Cinderella, the answer is no.
OFFICIAL TRAILER: ‘Beauty and the Beast’
But last year’s The Jungle Book was the exceptional exception. It’s not a coincidence that Jon Favreau’s remake was the only film of this reboot-and-recast strategy thus far with a streak of rebellious independence from its animated forefather, and which arguably even improved upon the original.
Beauty and the Beast, then, is positioned somewhere between the two camps, a familiar-and-fresh spectacle with heart-pumping, face-smiling moments — the “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast” song-and-dance numbers — that rival but never surpass those of the 1991 animation classic, the first full-length animated film to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards. (Years later Up and Toy Story 3 would follow.)
It opens with a handsome-but-vain young prince cruelly rejecting a plea for help from an old woman in rags, who warns him not to judge people by appearances. With his failing, the old woman, who reveals herself to be a beautiful enchantress, curses the prince and the castle, turning him into the hairy monster, his servants into household objects, and causing the French village to forget about all of them. The only way for Beast to lift the curse is to fall in love and for that love to be extended to him. That floating, slowly wilting rose is the hourglass reminder of how much time the prince has before the curse becomes permanent.
Years later and we meet Belle (Harry Potter's Emma Watson shows off an effective vocal range), the village bookworm whose beauty captivates the town's muscular hero and lout Gaston, played by Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train, Furious 7). Belle doesn’t reciprocate Gaston’s attention, which drives his desire to possess what he cannot have all the more. In a minor twist turned much ado about nothing reaction, Gaston’s sidekick LeFou (a scene-stealing Josh Gad) crushes on his tall, dark, and handsome friend. LeFou’s unrequited affections are not for nothing, but supply jokes, funny and otherwise, throughout the film.
As with the animated film, Belle’s father, the village’s eccentric inventor, Maurice (a loopy and fun Kevin Kline) is taken prisoner by the Beast (Dan Stevens).
Belle comes to his rescue and switches places with her father, against his wishes, and, well, if you don't know the story by now, you can certainly figure it out.
Director Bill Condon, whose eclectic filmmaking career includes Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1 and Part 2, casts a magical spell with the film's lavish production, but the charm wears off during a surprisingly dull middle section.
There are no twists to the plot, either; Beauty and the Beast plays it safe with the story and casting Watson and Gad, though the voice cast as the castle servants is notable — Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts, who also narrates the film), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza) — if not inspired — Tony-winning Audra McDonald and her illustrious voice (Madame Garderobe).
The biggest risk, at least for a reportedly $300 million budgeted film, is casting the talented but not widely known Stevens (perhaps most memorable as a psychotic military ops in fun horror thriller The Guest) in a motion-capture performance as Beast. This begs the question: What’s the point of updating an animated classic into live-action form if so much of the remake is animated by a computer anyway?
The songs are still lovely. The story still timeless. And when Beauty and the Beast is good, it’s joyful and fun. But even in its best moments, this remake only reminds you of why you fell in love with Disney’s animated take on this tale to begin with.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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