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Beauty and the Beast - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Beauty and the Beast
Directing: B+
Acting: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B-
Production Design: A-

The real question with this year's Beauty and the Beast -- the latest in a line of countless adaptations, but a direct remake of the 1991 Disney Animated Feature -- is whether it manages to justify its own existence. To a degree, it struggles to. But in the end, its clear flaws are overwhelmed by its abundant charms.

The story, as such, as familiar as familiar gets: Belle (Emma Watson) sacrifices her own freedom to save her father (Kevin Kline in a lovely supporting performance) after he unwittingly steals a rose from the grounds of a long-cursed Beast, who has locked him up in the tower of his castle for the transgression. When Belle comes to rescue him, she asks the Beast to take her instead. The Beast has been cursed for his long-ago arrogance and heartlessness, and is doomed to be in this state unless he can get a woman to fall in love with him, which his house servants, now turned into household items, conspire to make happen with Belle.

Nearly anyone who sees this movie knows all this already, having seen the 1991 film, which this one is so closely based on it features the very same songs, with just a few, arguably superfluous additions. Among this new film's flaws is its length: at 129 minutes in this case definitely qualifies as overlong. Luckily, most of those minutes move along swiftly, with nary a lull in sight.

The truth is, anyone who loved that 1991 animated feature is bound to love this movie too. The biggest trick, really, was in the casting, which is mostly done right. Emma Watson gives Belle a strength with a modern sensibility, and Luke Evans is perfectly pompous as Gaston, with Josh Gad fitting snug into the role of Gaston's doting sidekick, LeFou. Gad, as it happens, is the character used for the internationally -- and preposterously -- controversial, so-called "exclusively gay" moment, which lasts a fleeting moment. He gives LeFou's adoration for Gaston an effective subtlety, though.

The animated household items amount mostly to voice work, just as they did in the animated feature, with somewhat mixed results. Ian McKellen is wonderful as Cogsworth; Emma Thompson is competent as Mrs. Potts but slightly overdoing it with the cockney accent; casting the usually fantastic Ewan McGregor as Lumière with the exaggerated French accent is slightly mystifying.

These are mostly quibbles, admittedly; this is a straightforward fairy tale, after all, so who gives a shit? Well, that question might bring up how problematic the message is of a woman getting a man to love her by changing him. Then again, exactly how "feminist" this story is, particularly as told here, could easily be up for debate. Belle comes across as a strong, independent young woman who very much makes her own decisions. And rather than being the one to change the nature of the beast, it could be argued that the enchantress forces the Beast to come to terms with his own pride and selfishness.

Beauty and the Beast doesn't exist to pose those questions, however (although the multi-ethnic casting of the villagers in rural 19th-century France does come across as slightly self-conscious, if still refreshingly apropos for a fairy tale where anything is possible). It exists to entertain, and it does exactly that.

Dan Stevens, perhaps best known as Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey, gives a serviceable if largely obscured performance as the Beast, whose rendering is spotty at best. There are moments when you see his face and his appearance as this horned beast is genuinely impressive. At far too many other times, his CGI movements are slightly herky-jerky. In spite of some truly spectacular, intricate production design, what this means is that, visually, this film is likely to age poorly, and quickly. It's poised to wow the masses for now, but it's not destined to be a classic. Five years from now, you'll still be better off just re-watching Disney's animated feature. Most of the songs are the same, and the impressiveness of the animation never changes.

The timelessness of the story itself is retained, however. In spite of its imperfections, 2017's Beauty and the Beast offers a world in which it's easy to lose oneself. It's pure escapism, with familiar, catchy songs performed by actors who are all clearly having a ball, and the fun is infectious. It may be patently unoriginal -- there's even a moment when Belle seems confused as to whether she's in this movie or The Sound of Music -- but these days, what fairy tale isn't? Even the beast offers expressiveness that makes it easy to look past the kinks in his overall rendering. And that's the thing about those kinks: only people like me who even bother to think about these things are even going to care. For the people going out of their way to see this movie, it offers them exactly what they want.

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson breathe some new life in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Overall: B+
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