‘Beauty and the Beast’ tells tale as old as time, just not as well (review)

We, as a generation, have had an incredible opportunity to be a part of some of the most impactful films in cinema. We witnessed the birth of a whole new genre of film with the aid of CGI, the revival of the horror genre, and the incredible renaissance of Disney’s animated films. Among the classics that rejuvenated the massive company are such films as 1989’s The Little Mermaid, 1992’s Aladdin, 1994’s The Lion King, and the latest film to be turned into a live-action adaptation, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. The tale “as old as time” was an animated film based off of the classic French fairytale, La Belle et la Bête, written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.

Now, Disney has released the live-action adaptation in to theaters, and it seems to be sweeping the box offices, pulling in over $174 million in its first weekend. The film mirrors the animated classic in its story and characters, but holds a unique aspect of Disney’s wanting to reach a broader audience. Beauty and the Beast showcases the incredible talents of Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans,  Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, and Emma Thompson.

Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, beautiful and independent young woman, is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) in its castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the beast’s hideous exterior, allowing her to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside.

Directed by Bill Condon, who helmed such films 2006’s Dreamgirls, both parts of the final chapter in the Twilight saga, the film sets the stage much differently than many fans remember from the original animated classic. Giving this context, however, sheds a lot more light on the overall situation that the prince and his staff-turned-tools-of-their-trade (I don’t even want to know what the castle’s plumber was turned into). The original cartoon left a rather ambiguous hole in the inciting incident, leading many people to draw up their own theories about the whole situation (apparently, the prince must’ve been 10 or 11 in the cartoon?). It may not seem like much, but to have a complete story, and one that gives context to even the original film, creates a whole new experience for fans of both films.

The cast for this film is very impressive! From the likes of fresh faces such as Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, and Emma Watson, to the well-seasoned veterans such as Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, and Ewan McGregor, most films would dream to have a roster such as this. Now, take note that I’m saying “cast,” not performance. The cast is, by far, very impressive; the performances, however, are a bit underwhelming. And it’s not to the discredit of the performers, in no way shape or form; it’s because of the roles they were given. Let’s start at the top: Emma Watson is incredible, and very fit for the part, but unfortunately, the auto-tune usage in the film is very disconcerting. Her role would’ve been better had she not had been the one doing the singing, as some of the requirements for the song reached a bit outside her wheelhouse. And for the film, it was noticeable.

Ian McKellen, whom I adore, is underutilized in the film, in my opinion. I think out of all the staff of the castle, I definitely wanted to see more of him. Now, Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, could’ve disappeared entirely from the film, and it would’ve been so much better. I love McGregor and all of his performances in film, but with his horrible French accent, his character constantly pulled me out of the story. Every time he appeared on screen- which was a lot- it seemed like his French/Spanish accent seemed so inaccurate that it was almost borderline offensive. And speaking of French…

This critique is two-fold: I appreciated one aspect of it, but also didn’t. I’m talking about the French culture in the film, or lack thereof. The film makes you blatantly aware that they are in a French setting through the use of its set design and music. The scenes are ripe with Art Deco indicative of early World War I French architecture, highlighted with the muses of a harpsichord through each of the fan-favorite songs in the movie. Sadly, however, this is where the French aspect of the film stays. Disney is no stranger to incorporating appropriate culture in their films, as evidenced by last year’s outstanding films such as The Jungle Book, Moana, and Queen of Katwe.

Stepping out and giving gravitas to the fact that the tale originated in France by incorporating legitimate French actors, or even give convincing accents, should have been no sweat at all for the House of Mouse. But, as we see throughout the film, much like the animated source material, many- if not all- of the actors carried their American or English accents on the silver screen, giving none the wiser about where the tale’s roots lie. We already mentioned McGregor’s accent, but in the same boat, you also have Stanley Tucci’s character, the harpsichord player-turned harpsichord, whose accent was equally atrocious. Giving the film a sense of being in touch with its French roots would’ve given fans a more enriching, and, in my opinion, dynamic, viewing experience.

Despite all these, I did enjoy many parts of the film. My favorite character of all of the entire ensemble had to be Gaston. Through the unique approach that Luke Evans offered, I felt more engaged and entranced with the character development in the film. From finding out that he’s a war veteran of sorts, to seeing his decline into depravity in terms of trying to get Belle to marry him, made for a unique arc for him. The “Gaston” song scene was by far my favorite scene throughout the whole film, as you get to see the beloved musical number, that once was animated, translate to live-action in a funny and quirky performance by both Luke Evans and Josh Gad.

All in all, the film is a fine adaptation of the classic that we all know and love. It doesn’t really implement anything brand new for longtime fans, but it doesn’t really display the maturity that Disney has been showcasing in recent films. Beauty and the Beast is the film that gives you an opportunity to see just a live-action version of the animated classic, which can be either good or bad. Me personally, I felt that the film could have gone a bit further in terms of wanting to be progressive and modern, as the film falls short in areas that could’ve stood out. Beauty and the Beast is the film that serves you exactly what you’d expect the “grey stuff” to taste like: just alright.

Rating: 2.5/5 Atoms

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Eddie Villanueva Jr.
Eddie Villanueva Jr. 313 posts

A movie connoisseur of only the finest films, and an Encyclopod of geek and nerd knowledge. And if you know what an Encyclopod is, you're cool too!