Review: Disney’s ‘Beauty And The Beast’ Gets Lost In Translation

'Beauty and the Beast'
‘Beauty and the Beast’ poster courtesy of Walt Disney

The Box Office:

Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast hits theaters in North America (and elsewhere) on March 17, 2017. The film is the latest in one of the Mouse House’s most valuable would-be franchises. What started as a “wow” moment with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), which made $1.025 billion worldwide, thanks to a well-timed release date and spectacular director, concept and stars, has now morphed into a regular feature of the Disney playbook. And the only question is whether this $160 million-budgeted live action/CGI hybrid fantasy will become the fairest one of all.

For the record, it is entirely possible for me to argue that this Bill Condon-directed adaptation of the 1991 animated feature has a solid shot at becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year while swearing up-and-down that it doesn’t have to clear $1 billion to be considered a success. But as this is the first one of these live-action adaptations to retell a more contemporary Disney animated feature, we’re getting a comparatively unprecedented shot of nostalgia and multi-generational interest.

You’ve got adults who grew up with the Oscar-nominated toon, kids who will come to this either with fresh eyes and everyone in between. Oh, and toss in Emma Watson as the title character, just as the kids who grew up with Harry Potter are coming of age, and you have a financial concoction so perfect it borders on evil. Including the 2012 3D reissue and not accounting for inflation, the original toon has earned $216 million domestic and $424m worldwide. It will be fun to see how quickly that figure gets trounced by this new variation. Say what you will about Disney’s diabolical doings, but if it gets them the money to make the likes of Pete’s Dragon and Queen of Katwe, then be my guest!

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The Review:

Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the first of these newfangled live-action fairy tale adaptations that feels motivated purely by financial whims. The live-action adaptation of the 1991 animated musical is less of a new interpretation of an old text than a straight remake of a popular movie purely because that previous film was popular. It is a celebrity cover band version of the animated movie, intended primarily to milk nostalgia and cross-generational interest. Yet it is burdened by length-padding digressions, miscasting, a choppy narratives and an emotional detachment that only highlights that icky subtexts within.

One of the core problems, believe it or not, is Emma Watson as the title character. Even with slight revisions to make Belle more of a master of her own destiny, this is still not the healthiest romance ever told. Unlike, say, Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, it is a romance that begins absent consent and without equal agency. And Watson can’t quite sell her own acceptance of this narrative. Like Jodie Foster in Anna and the King, Watson can’t quite dumb herself down to the level of buying it.

Belle is much more engaged when she’s fending off Gaston (Luke Evans) or conversing with her father (Kevin Kline). She looks unsure of how to react when she’s watching a bunch of silverware put on a dinner theater or falling for a relatively charmless Beast (Dan Stevens, with a great singing voice even if I kept thinking of Colm Wilkinson’s Jean Valjean). The film is much stronger, at least as surface-level entertainment, in the village sequences, where good actors are conversing with each other, as opposed to Beast’s castle where good actors do their best to bring visually displeasing CGI creations to life.

What works fine in animation–the various anthropomorphic dishes and tea cups singing…