Beauty and the Beast Review: It Was Corporate Greed Killed the Beast

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On top of Marvel and Star Wars, Disney’s least inventive way of taking all our money is remaking their own animated classics into live-action films that are marketed as both nostalgia and as showing audiences something new and different about a story they already love. The best of these is Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book from last year, which somehow expanded on the original’s personality while displaying state of the art visual effects. The worst is a toss up between Tim Burton’s haphazard Alice in Wonderland and Bill Condon’s dry and sometimes joyless Beauty and the Beast.

For some audiences, what’s created here might be enough. The basic story arc is still a winning one, even with less than half the magic and charm of the animated original. Emma Watson makes for an excellent Belle, combining strength and compassion for a decidedly modern take on the character. Most of all, the songs still work, from the titular tune to a spectacular CGI re-imagining of “Be Our Guest.”

But what’s missing is the classic Disney sense of enchantment. Unlike Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, the production design and costumes don’t really pop. Unlike Favreau’s Jungle Book, the classic characters never feel fully realized. And unlike Burton’s Alice and Wonderland, there’s no distinctive style, however oppressive it may have been, to at least keep the eyes engaged. There’s no purpose to this Beauty and the Beast, making it feel like Disney is now just running down the list rather than investing in creative re-imaginings.

Dan Stevens’ Beast feels less like a performance and more like a run-pf0the-mill CGI creation, and not one of the good ones that Andy Serkis somehow emotes through. This Beast is stale and going through the motions of the story, with some less than convincing CGI backing him up. The rest of the cast is pretty uneven. Luke Evans gives it his all as Gaston, but never sells his abrasive form of sincerity. The voices of the castle’s various furniture aren’t really given a chance to stand out, aside from Sir Ian McKellan’s Cogsworth, but even that might just be his distinctive wise rumble coming through.

This isn’t to say that nothing works about this adaptation, but that the things that we’ve seen work in Disney’s other live-action remakes should have at least worked again here. Condon doesn’t let his supporting cast shine out from under Watson, a brilliant young actress who will hopefully soon break out of the world of fantasy once and for all. But the biggest problem with the film comes down to a lack of justification for its existence. None of the narrative tweaks add new meaning or depth to the story. You can watch the 1991 classic in 40 minutes less and come out feeling more fulfilled. I’m actually at a bit of a loss at what the draw was meant to be here. The sad truth is likely that Disney is prepared to milk our nostalgia for every penny it’s worth. Sometimes they put actual effort into that (The Jungle Book, The Force Awakens). But in this case, they didn’t seem to, and that’s just shallow business. Grade: C+

By Matt Dougherty

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