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One Movie Punch

Jan 30, 2018

Today’s movie is “Beauty and the Beast” (2017), the live action remake of the Disney animated classic, starring Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast, and Luke Evans as Gaston. Full disclosure: the original animated version was the first film that ever made me cry while watching it, specifically the title song and the dance that accompanies it. I was at my grandparents’ place for some holiday gathering, and we were watching it, and there I was, tears leaking out of my skull.

I didn’t know at the time about oxytocin being released by the right combination of story, score and pacing, of course, nor how Disney had nearly perfected that formula over the years. I also didn’t really analyze the film very much, what with the characters in a classic Stockholm Syndrome situation, and the story ultimately being about a privileged prince that, rather than getting the guillotine, gets yet another chance to make things right. Nor that, ultimately, we’re supposed to learn a lesson that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but then the prince gets to be handsome again, not to mention all his immense wealth and status.

Which is why when it comes to this remake, I have a lot of questions about the changes that were made. No, I’m not one of those rabid conservative types upset about LeFou (Josh Gad) being gay, nor the inclusion of people of color in the film. But those changes are juxtaposed against the hefty realism of the plague, the expectation of illiteracy for women, and the general classism of the time. I’m all for classic stories being revised for inclusion, but I feel like these additions, while socially important for today, would have been way more effective by taking the setting out of France. Oh, and while we’re at it, why do only some characters have French accents, and the rest are English and, somehow, American?

So, yeah, I have a lot of questions and criticism about the story, and the meaning and/or message we’re supposed to draw from the film. If I put all that to the side, however, then the film is unquestionably spectacular, in the full sense of that word. The costumes and sets and effects are all insanely detailed and well rendered, retaining and enhancing the Rococo-era design with all the new technology of the day. The cast, while working with the material they have in the script, turn in above average performances. And Bill Condon’s direction helps update the animated classic into a live action version, with perhaps a little too much effort on some frame-by-frame recreations.

I don’t think we’re anywhere close to seeing the end of Disney’s live action remakes. I think at last count there were sixteen more in development, including “Dumbo”, “The Lion King”, “Aladdin”, and “The Little Mermaid”. I hope these remakes, especially “Aladdin”, go the extra mile in the script to not just add token adornments, but to truly correct the biases and social tone-deafness of Disney’s previous animated output. Because while these efforts will likely be commercial successes, as “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) was, they could be so much more.

Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

Metacritic: 65

One Movie Punch: 6.4/10 

“Beauty and the Beast” (2017) is rated PG and is currently streaming on Netflix and available wherever you enjoy movies.