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Beauty & The Beast (2017) - Review

Beauty & The Beast

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

DISNEY’S continuing mission to transform its classic animated titles into live-action movies continues apace with Beauty & The Beast. But while certainly easy on the eye, Bill Condon’s movie is only a partial success.

First and foremost, the film delivers everything you’d expect from this classic tale, from ear-pleasing songs to robustly delivered messages about love, appearance and dreaming big. It’s well acted, boasts some top-drawer special effects and will tick all the right boxes for all those Disney loving princes and princesses among you.

But there are times, too, when the film feels like its trying too hard, whether in being overly politically correct or mixing tones. It feels very much like Disney is trying to have its cake and eat it.

The story will be familiar to anyone who has seen the classic 1991 animated title. The beast of the title is a selfish bachelor (Dan Stevens, formerly of Downton Abbey), whose greedy excess results in a curse being placed upon him whereby he is transformed into a bad-tempered creature. The only thing that can break the spell is the love of a good woman; but this can only be achieved before a rose in his west wing sheds all of its petals.

As the years pass, Beast and his castle are forgotten… until a local beauty, Belle (Emma Watson), ventures inside in an attempt to retrieve her recently captured father (Kevin Kline), who happened upon the isolated location while on his way to the market. Volunteering to swap places with her beloved dad, Belle is imprisoned by the moody Beast, but slowly finds a way into his heart as they bond over a shared passion for books and culinary delights. Will true love prevail before it’s too late? Or will the nearby villagers, led by the egotistical Gaston (Luke Evans), come between them?

Driven by the songs of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, Beauty & The Beast certainly doesn’t skimp on eye-catching spectacle or Disney classic storytelling tradition. Indeed, it adheres fairly strictly to the core elements of the story.

Where it deviates slightly, it tends to get into trouble. Much has been made of Josh Gad’s Le Fou, who represents the first openly gay character in a Disney film. But aside from being history-making in that respect, the decision seems a curious one that is arguably unnecessary within the context of a film that boasts equal appeal to very young children as it does older Disney enthusiasts.

Gad is fine in the role, camping it up to full effect, but his big reveal comes during a blink and you may miss it dance finale despite being hinted at throughout. The gesture feels tokenistic. But it does pose a wider question surrounding the portrayal of any kind of sexuality in family movies.

That being said, there are several other moments when the film veers towards the camp, with Condon delivering some unapologetically big scenes that owe more to Broadway spectacle than the film’s animated roots.

But he also knows how to deliver a rousing set piece, with several of the big sequences delivered with an intensity that may also set younger pulses racing (from an encounter with wolves to the final face-off between Gaston and Beast). It can create an uneven tone but keeps viewers on their toes.

One final problem lies with the film’s pacing, which starts off well before becoming a little bogged down during the middle section. It seems to take an age before the romance between Belle and Beast is allowed to develop. Again, younger minds may start to wonder.

That being said, the film does work on its own terms. As well as being camp and intense, it can be rousing, romantic and fun. And the climactic tussle is fairly emotional.

Watson is a competent Belle, Stevens does well to create an endearing Beast beneath the prosthetics and CG, while the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, as a cantankerous clock; Ewan McGregor, as an optimistic candelabra, and Evans, as a ridiculously chauvinistic villain, all seem to be having the type of fun that translates well to the audience.

Without ever scaling the heights of last year’s The Jungle Book, Beauty & The Beast is an efficient crowd-pleaser that makes it easy enough to overlook its flaws (especially if you’re part of its target audience).

Certificate: PG
Running time: 129mins
UK Release Date: March 17, 2017