Beauty and the Beast is Disney’s latest attempt and near greatest misfire at live-action recreation of their most beloved classics (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is still an impossibly low bar to dismantle).
Despite the many positives going for it, Beast is an occasionally beautiful musical made with some truly monstrous attempts to diverge from the flawless simplicity of the original. When it rehashes images and iconic moments of the animated masterpiece, the results are watered down – but when it aims for reimagining the plot beats, it becomes silly and over-complicated.
With director Bill Condon at the helm, the lushly designed production has had buckets of money thrown at it, seemingly no expense spared on making this the splashiest of adaptations. What is in short supply is trust in the original’s archetypes and narrow focus. This film is bent on filling backstories that even the most ardent fans would shrug at and finding takes on each character so “fresh” as to make them barely the one you remember. Gaston has about one-tenth the ego, and Crazy Old Maurice isn’t an outcast until it’s necessary for plotting.
But the problem is the change itself, but the blandness of too many dulled edges. Without these building blocks, this iteration’s emotional payoffs are significantly less felt – it’s a love story without any passion in its bloodstream.
It’s surprising that the film is so out of touch with the score, given that Condon gave us of the most rhythmic and tuned-in musicals of the current era with Dreamgirls. The songs of Beast are one of its strongest assets that it can seldom match. “Be Our Guest” is an awkward eyesore and the opening “Belle” is murky and vague. The voices may not be as rough as you’ve heard, but the presentation of the musical numbers don’t offer any favors. The ensemble is asked precious little to do (especially Emma Watson’s less demonstrative Belle) and occasionally too much – kudos to Disney for shoving a gay character to the masses, but this is not LeFou’s story and Josh Gad remains grating.
Though at times garish, Beauty and the Beast’s production value is sometimes a treat enough to distract from the overly clunky plotting. Jacqueline Durran’s costumes offer exquisite detail, even if the images surrounding them are too cluttered to allow them their maximum impact. Sarah Greenwood’s production design is maybe the most successful element of the film in borrowing the original’s ideas with a new perspective.
Unfortunately, this reimagining of Beauty and the Beast has little chance to stand next to its animated counterpart, neither in the history books or our hearts (even if the box office is another story). If this film didn’t have the shoulders of the original to stand on, this Beast would be something of a creative catastrophe for Disney.