Movie review: “Beauty and the Beast” adaption bursting with Disney magic despite wrinkles

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Courtesy photo

Connor Heaton

Reporting correspondent

cheaton@jccc.edu

Filled with spectacular visuals, charming characters and inspiring soundtrack, “Beauty and the Beast” is, above all else, a faithful adaptation of the 1991 Disney classic. This live action version is the latest in the line of Disney’s revamps of their animated films like “Jungle Book,” “Pete’s Dragon” and “Cinderella.” Many were excited for this release, as the story, characters and mesmerizing musical numbers remain imprinted on the memories of millions since their childhood. Therefore, many regard this as one of Disney’s most successful animations, and for good reason. Needless to say, it’s a tough act to follow.

The story of “Beauty and the Beast” revolves around the entanglement of two prisoners: One, a young man (Dan Stevens) who is trapped within the body of a monstrous beast as punishment for his past sins, and Belle (Emma Watson), a charming bookworm who yearns for adventure but ends up as the Beast’s captive. Meanwhile, she is hunted by Gaston, the masculine hunk determined to have her love. Through the tale, however, Belle and the Beast begin to form a bond which defies the very laws of nature and perhaps love itself.

This adaptation directed by Bill Condon is both an ode to the past and an embrace of the future, as it retains the original’s heart and soul, but also displays a considerable amount of progression, especially on the aesthetic side.

Taken at face value, the film is a consistently stunning achievement, both on a visual and technical level. Everything from the dusty cobbled streets of Belle’s small town to the haunting, yet hypnotically mesmerizing detail of the Beast’s shadowy abode, exudes a sense of detail and magic that only Disney can muster. Kudos to the production crew and set designers who knew how to make a world such as this jump so seamlessly from story to screen.

One of the quintessential elements to “Beauty and the Beast” is magic, or more specifically, its effects.That being said, the special effects are nothing short of magic. The artists and animators put forward their utmost effort to both update and revitalize the classic characters but also preserve their essence. This is especially true of Cogsworth (Ian McKlellen) and Lumière (Ewan McGregor), two of the Beast’s cursed servants forced to remain as household items unless he  finds love. The effort made to make these clocks, candlesticks and utensils as lifelike as possible is a commendable achievement in and of itself. Of course, nothing is more magical than the cursed creature himself who, with phenomenal CGI, transforms into an unkempt menagerie of matted fur, tear-soaked claws and hollow, animalistic eyes. Yet through it all his tender touch and mannerisms remain preserved, both technically and thematically.

Not enough praise can be showered upon the actors in this film. It becomes immediately apparent after the first jaw-dropping, foot tapping musical number that these talented men and women respect the original’s playful attitude whilst also striving to make their own marks.

Perhaps one of the film’s greatest achievements is the fact that upon a modern canvas, Stevens revitalizes and transforms the original, capturing audiences both new and old.

The original was filled with music that remains dear to the hearts and ears of many. Thankfully, the sound designers, choreographers and performers continue to amaze. They provide a soundtrack that, while not as inspired as the original, contains enough energy and passion to more than make up for its shortcomings. All fan favorites return, from Belle’s solo lament, to the castle’s warm invitation. While some are given a unique twist, most remain faithful to the source to a degree of practically pinpoint precision. Moviegoers should be excited to hear that three extra songs added to the central lineup. A personal favorite throughout the entire film happens to be the song “Forever More,” a powerful ode to love and loss, performed by none other than the Beast himself.

Unfortunately, while the lineup is fantastic and contain classics both new and old, the inclusion of all these songs begins to weigh down the film and reveal one of its most apparent flaws: the pacing. The original 1991 classic had an approximate runtime of an hour and a half. This film goes on for two hours and suffers for it. While it was consistently lovely on a visual and musical level, the fact that many scenes were pointlessly drawn out to increase run-time becomes intensely apparent.

While perhaps the biggest praise this film deserves is in regards to its faithfulness to the source material, this could, however, be the film’s greatest flaw. Of course this is again depending upon who you ask. One of the biggest criticisms of adaptations as a whole is when they aren’t accurate to the source material and make drastic cuts and changes. At the same time, though, this is what gives an old story new life, especially when it’s done right. This movie does not take advantage of this fact nearly as much as it could, and the plot suffers. There comes a point at which the spectacle wears off and one is left with a sense of sameness. Nothing truly differs from the source. Again, while this may not bother some, it may irk those who wish for something other than the traditional love story told time and time again.

However, even though it may fail to engage on a purely story-driven level, the charming characters more than hold everything up. Many of the changes actually stem from the supporting cast of all places.  The handsome hunk-like antagonist Gaston without his loyal and perhaps clingy sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad). LeFou is, of all people, given a surprising amount of depth to his character. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the cast aren’t given the same treatment. They’re not bad characters by any stretch of the imagination, but they lack a certain “renewal” given to all other aspects.

At its best, “Beauty and the Beast” is yet another staple in the company’s long history of fluid animation and excellent music, as it remains faithful to the original in practically every way. As a visual learner, this film spoke to me in a way few others manage to do. It retains the original’s heart and soul which will delight fans both new and old. However, the film falters on a practical and story-driven level, with a plot that perhaps remains too close to the original to warrant a multi-million dollar production such as this. For those looking for a faithful adaptation filled with whimsy, vivid visuals and nostalgic music, look no further. But for those seeking anything truly new that fleshes out the world, its characters or its story, not much can be said. Though this was probably done on purpose, the fact that everything else was given a facelift of some sort, makes these omissions stand out all the more.

The moral of “Beauty and the Beast” revolves around the idea that we should not judge one by their outward appearance, as we don’t know who they truly are on the inside. This film is in many ways the opposite of this statement. It looks, sounds and seems amazing, yet when you peer inside, depending on what you’re looking for, you’ll find that there is no big transformation, and no handsome prince. However, much like the story, you’ll find something to love if you accept it for what it is, fluff and all.

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