Beauty and the Beast, 2017
Directed by Bill Condon
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Sonoya Mizuno, Hattie Morahan, Audra McDonald
An adaptation of the Disney fairy tale about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.
The live-action Disney adaptations are pushing full steam ahead, with titles like Mulan, Aladdin and more in development, but they’ve been pretty hit and miss so far. Some have been technical marvels that bring new life into an old story (The Jungle Book, Maleficent), while others have been bland and dull retreads of what has come before (Cinderella). Sadly for Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, it falls more into the boring Cinderella category than the fantastic Jungle Book.
But to start off with some positives, the set design is fabulous, grand and really impressive. It’s very theatrical, with a lot of time and thought put into each curve and nuance. Condon could have easily plonked his actors in front of a green screen and let computers do all the work, but the effort spent on the sets pays off in spades. Disney have a way of making movies feel magical, and The Beast’s castle is a great example of this. The scenery, honestly, look good enough to eat.
Which would explain why every actor is chewing it like it’s their last meal. Luke Evans, in particular, is glorious in his over-acting as is Dan Stevens, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline and pretty much everyone else. Evans has cranked up the dial to eleven to the point where he’s on near Nic Cage-like levels of brilliance. It’s a joy to watch. His partnership with the equally over-the-top Josh Gad is far and away the best thing about Beauty and the Beast, and they provide all the enjoyment. They get what movie they’re in. As such, they’ve decided every movement and dialogue read should be BIG. And if it’s not BIG enough, then you just go BIGGER. Stevens is the same with his Beast mannerisms, and really plays up to it in the final two acts of the movie. His CGI servants are also on fine scenery-chewing form, with Ewan McGregor seemingly getting his accent training from ‘Allo ‘Allo, while McKellen hams it up a storm and Thompson does her best Angela Lansbury impression. And let’s not forget Kevin Kline, who has all the subtly of a Muppet movie. All that beautiful scenery, just being chewed up and spat out by outrageous performances.
That is, sadly, apart from Emma Watson. The former Harry Potter star and fantastic public persona gives a dazzlingly dire performance in Beauty and the Beast, which only jars more when she’s up against everyone else’s energy. She’s dreary, dull, bland, boring. She’s IKEA furniture with none of the fun. She’s Orlando Bloom on his worst day. She has a lovely singing voice, but never looks convincing when she’s mouthing along with the words. What’s frustrating is that Watson is a captivating screen presence and should be a fantastic leading lady, but it’s like she doesn’t care. While everyone else is at eleven, she’s barely pushing four. With the news that she was initially lined up to play Cinderella at one point, it sort of tells you that Disney wanted her for the role because she’s Emma Watson rather than because she’d make a good Belle.
And its sad to say, but her performance drags the film down. It could have been a fun romp at the very least, but Beauty and the Beast is a rather tame affair. A boring one at that. Each scene drags into the next and the two hour runtime slows to a crawl before the final act kicks in. Even the songs seem tired. “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” should be shining moments for the film, but feel like a burden. Neither song has the fun energy that their animated counterpart displayed all those years ago, which only makes the film feel longer than it really is. The new songs from original song-master Alan Menken are also so incredibly forgettable, you’ll wonder if there were any new numbers when you leave the theatre.
But perhaps Beauty and the Beast‘s biggest crime is that it brings nothing new to the table. The songs are the same and shot the same, the story beats are the same and shot the same. Nothing is changed. A few new scenes are added here and there to expand the runtime, but the offer very little in substance or character. Like Cinderella, it’s just a pointless exercise. The live-action Disney remakes come under fire from fans for ‘ruining childhood classics’, but The Jungle Book and Maleficent show there is some merit in looking at a story from a new angle. Beauty and the Beast chooses not to do this, and instead just adapts the animated classic frame for frame with no thought or originality.
Is it uninspired, or a missed opportunity? It’s difficult to work out what Beauty and the Beast is. It’s a cinematic experience that’s just there. It exists. It starts, and then two hours later it ends. There’s nothing to be found, nothing to discover and aside from the wacky performances, little to enjoy. It might be worth your money to see the incredible scenery chewing on show and some nice sets, but that’s really about it. It’s another bland dud in the Disney live-action canon, vanilla to the nth degree. Such a shame.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made (which you can pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US). You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.