Review: Beauty and the Beast

Originally published on CommonSpace.

Trapped in time, Disney’s animated classic is protected from certain criticisms.

Belle is a little too perfect; the central romance is borne out of a kidnapping; and the film’s climax makes a mockery of its message up until that point, turning Beast into a conventionally dashing lad after atoning for his sins. Regardless, it is still one of the most magical stories ever told, and it retains that status because of its historical context.

That protection is shattered by a live-action retelling in 2017. It’s a reminder that underneath the scintillating songs and the charming beauty, there’s something ugly at its core: a snobbery, a vanity and an entrapment – meaning, what works here is what worked before.

Luke Evans’s Gaston is phenomenal, playing him somewhere between a pantomime villain and Milo Yiannopoulos. His pomp and menace make him truly loathsome. The songs – the songs – still sound magical.

Newcomer Days in the Sun fits in like an old friend. The musical setpieces often shine, such as Belle’s introduction as she returns a book across town. It’s a little stagey, but it works.

It doesn’t always work. Be Our Guest is so over the top, so artificial, its presentation resembles Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road. That lifelessness seeps into the rest of the film.

When Belle and Beast were hand-drawn, both were as real as each other. Now Emma Watson is dancing with, connecting with, and weeping for a CGI animal, in his CGI castle with his CGI friends. The effects are remarkable, but they are no substitute for either tangible production or the handcrafted animation of Disney’s renaissance.

It’s as fine as The Jungle Book and Cinderella, but nowhere near as touching and heartfelt as 2016’s underseen Pete’s Dragon. The original Beauty and the Beast is a near perfect film, reimagined here for no good reason, plainly told, and where the fantastical has been traded for the fake. For who could ever learn to love a CGI feast?



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