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Beauty and the Beast




Beauty and the Beast (PG)
Film reviews by Amy Diaz

03/23/17
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Emma Watson’s Belle and Dan Stevens’ Beast have their “tale as old as time” romance in Beauty and the Beast, another in the continuing live-action-ication of the Disney cartoons.
Belle is a bookworm with a desire to see the world but the small town she lives in with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), doesn’t appreciate her nerdiness. Nor does local jock-bro Gaston (Luke Evans) seem to understand that her lack of interest in becoming his wife is not going to change. 
But Maurice understands his daughter’s urges for a life with a wider scope. When he is imprisoned for stealing a rose from a terrible Beast in a hidden castle, Maurice urges Belle to leave him and live her life. Instead, she promises her father she will escape and switches places with him.
She quickly learns that this castle, long hidden from and forgotten by the world, isn’t just the ruin it appears. It is enchanted and populated by a host of servants turned animate inanimate objects.
A talking teacup, Chip (voice of Nathan Mack), is the young son of the talking teapot, Mrs. Potts (voice of Emma Thompson). A mechanical clock, Cogsworth (voice of Ian McKellan), runs the house, that is when Lumière (voice of Ewan McGregor), the candlestick, isn’t putting in place his own schemes, such as the one to get Belle out of the dungeon and into a fancy guest bedroom. There, he and his lady love, the feather duster Plumette (voice of Gugu Mbatha-Raw); an opera singer turned wardrobe, Lady Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and a host of other household goods give Belle the royal treatment. The horned and hairy Beast, after all, was once a human prince who was turned into a not-always-convincing I’m guessing partially CGI beast because he was, essentially, a jerk and an enchantress (Hattie Morahan) cursed him and his castle to teach him about the evils of superficiality. 
Now the Beast and his staff of home goods hope that Belle will be the one to break the spell (the Beast must learn to love and be loved in return) and everybody can go back to their human lives. 
Naturally, Belle and the Beast start out at odds, with the Beast unwilling to be kind to the woman his staff-objects believe is his last chance to break the curse and Belle attempting to escape. But after a moment of mutual aid, Belle and the Beast start to form a friendship and, with the urging of Lumière and company, possibly something more. Will reciprocal love bloom before the last petal falls off the enchanted rose that serves as the Beast’s True Love countdown clock? 
“Be Our Guest” and “Something There” were, I thought, the best of the movie’s musical moments, both songs that heavily feature the household staff. Generally speaking, the lives and loves of the candlestick, feather duster, teapot, etc., were far more interesting to me than the central love story. They have friendships, romances, obligations and a common goal of beating a curse. Whenever Lumière opines about his desire to be with Plumette or Mrs. Potts worries about her very breakable child who isn’t getting the chance to grow up, the movie feels full of genuine emotion. The special effects here didn’t wow me — this isn’t The Jungle Book — but the object-people have a liveliness to them and a warmth that makes them enjoyable to watch. 
The liveliness of these CGI characters is greater than the humans (and the human-digital-something hybrid that is the Beast). Which isn’t to say that Watson and Stevens aren’t fine, they are. Fine. Acceptable. But their characters are oddly underdrawn. We learn almost nothing about the Beast’s hopes and dreams other than his hope to not always be a beast. After early scenes that show us Belle inventing a washing machine and teaching a child to read, we don’t really get to see her doing things — say, inventing ways for the clock to butler better or researching loopholes for curse-breaking. 
She and the Beast fall in love because the story needs them to fall in love, but we don’t really see what inspires that other than the staff desperately pushing them together. 
As not-quite-there as Belle, the Beast and their coupledom felt, Gaston felt all wrong. I get why this faithful remake of a beloved musical couldn’t dump a character with his own song, but he is unnecessary and adds an unneeded layer of darkness to the movie. Gaston is not the fun, glam or snarky villain that Disney often employs to balance the earnestness of its leads. Whatever he was like as a cartoon, in flesh and blood Gaston just comes off as menacing. I feel like Josh Gad’s LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick, is the movie’s acknowledgment of this; he gets the funny lines and the knowing looks and is the only thing keeping the Gaston scenes from Lifetime stalker movie territory. If you need a whole character to dampen the creep-factor of another guy, maybe just don’t have that guy. A better “villain” would have been prejudice itself. The Beast is being punished for basing people’s worth on their physical appearance and now he’s treated like a Beast because of his appearance. Setting up prejudice as a villain would also have the benefit of tying in with Belle’s desire to break free from a socially rigid environment. 
In short, humans, live-action humans, are what I didn’t so much like about this live-action Beauty and the Beast. The live action looks good enough, but I feel like it stripped some of the fairy-tale-ness out of this story. Everything with the objects feels earned in a way the human emotions do not and the charm of their characters might be enough to save the film for you, particularly if nostalgia makes you predisposed to love it. If not, the lack of a really winning love story at the movie’s center might be too much for even the world’s most charming candlestick to overcome. B-
Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images. Directed by Bill Condon with a screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, Beauty and the Beast is two hours and nine minutes long and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios. 





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