Disclaimer: This review is generally spoiler-free. However, Beauty and the Beast (2017) is so heavily intertwined with Beauty and the Beast (1991) that I cannot talk about one without the other.
Also: Beauty and the Beast is an 18th century fairytale. Enough time has passed at this point. The Statute of Limitations is up.
Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as nostalgia. Belle, a young woman with a peculiar penchant for literacy, lives in a small french town just a hop, skip and hike from an enchanted castle. Beast is a cursed prince living in squalor amongst his spellbound court. He must find true love to break the spell and turn back into a human.
Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon, is a live action adaptation of a beloved animated feature. It was the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. I know literally every word of this movie, down to the cadence of the dialogue. I own the original VHS, the anniversary VHS and a DVD copy of the film. It’s a lot to live up to.
This film could never hope to escape its predecessor’s shadow… and honestly doesn’t seem to try that hard to distinguish itself. The opening is a mimicked monologue, expositing about the curse while showing exactly how it all happened. The reason this worked in the original was because the monologue was laid over stained glass windows, giving us the impressions of everything that happened without it being redundant. Beauty and the Beast (2017) shows us, as they’re telling the story. It’s like if I was doing a voice over and said “Bob walked down the street and found an ice cream cone” while showing a clip of Bob walking down the street and finding an ice cream cone. What’s the point?
This iteration made the decision to address a lot of the criticisms lodged against the original story. In concerning itself with nitpicks, it lost its way. They expanded on many characters’ backstories unnecessarily. Generally speaking this came off clunky, especially with their attempts at justifying Beast’s temper and cruel treatment of others. Time that would have been better spent showing his character progression was spent mired in his past with a weak attempt at shifting the blame off of him.
There were times when this approach actually helped, like in Gaston’s case. It never made much sense that Gaston was so hyped about going to kill a random monster. He had no reason to believe Belle cared a whit about the thing and nothing invested in its demise. In this new version, they establish early on that Gaston thirsts for the glory days of war.
Which touches on what I think is the main problem with this film. It has some of the most baffling directing that I’ve ever seen. It borders on incompetent. Emma Watson, Ewan Mcgregor, EMMA THOMPSON… these are all incredibly talented actors, of whom I think highly…so what the hell?! The direction they’re given, the line reads they give, I have to assume that it was Condon’s doing.
Still worse was the editing. I genuinely could not believe it. The editor, Virginia Katz, seems to understand that sometimes you may want to cut to different angles, but I don’t think she’s fully clear on why. Not a single shot lasts more than 10 seconds, and most average 3-5. There are also awkward too-long pauses before everyone speaks, like the shots were all cut a moment too early.
- Le Fou is gay and great. It’s not a blink and you’ll miss it moment. His arc stretches throughout the movie.
- Emma Watson Can’t Sing, But That’s Ok.
- They use an odd, shallow depth of field so they don’t have to properly render the CGI castle all the way through and it bugs me. Your mileage may vary.
- Belle is an Inventor. If anything, this improves the dynamic between her and her father.
- This movie promotes literacy, so that’s fun I guess.
- The Beast has an awesome new song that sounds like it’s from the soundtrack of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- The most baffling line in the entire movie: “You should grow a beard.” You’ll see.
- This movie features a talking, singing candelabra and a horned buffalo man in tails… and yet the most unbelievable looking thing in this entire film is the Prince’s wig at the end.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast’s burden is that it tries to do too much and invests in the wrong things. I thought it was fun, kids will like it, hardcore Disney fans will be satisfied with the scenes that were recreated shot by shot (of which there were quite a few).
(For those who are curious, my rating for the 1991 version is 11.5/10)