The good news about Beauty and the Beast is that you’re already right about it. No matter what you think of it before you’ve seen it – that it could never hold a candle to the 1991 animated classic or that it’s a more feminist remake of the Stockholm Syndrome-reminiscent original or that there’s no way a singing candlestick could hold your attention for two hours – you’re almost definitely not going to feel any differently about it after you leave the theater. 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is the Rorschach test of big budget fairy tale remakes: you’re going to find in it exactly what you’re looking for.
For the sake of the 5 people unfamiliar with the story and characters, a quick recap: Belle (Emma Watson) is the kind of beautiful weird girl that would be a perfect YA heroine, but who is a bit of an outcast in her French village. Gaston (Luke Evans) is the “no doesn’t always mean no” bro who wants to marry her, and LeFou (Josh Gad) is the devoted friend/lackey who is in unrequited love with Gaston. When Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) ventures out to sell a clock, he gets lost, stumbles into some bad weather, and ends up the prisoner of a prince who has been cursed and is currently in the form of a beast (Dan Stevens). For some reason, Belle goes to take her father’s place as palace prisoner, and she finds the entire castle is enchanted when the clocks and teapots strike up some casual conversation.
All of that is mostly the same as the 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast, which director Bill Condon’s new live action film closely mirrors. With a running time that’s about 40 minutes longer, it’s immediately obvious that the writers of the new version have crammed some more stuff in – a back story regarding Belle’s mother, another about Beast’s father, some new and extended songs, a slower build to the Belle/Beast relationship that makes it seem less instantaneous and weird, and so on. All of those pieces are meant to add depth to the story, and in some cases – most notably, the extra scenes between Belle and Beast – it works. But on the whole, the movie is too long. The first half drags a bit, and it’s an odd choice to lengthen it, especially since very few movies need to be longer than 120 minutes, and anyway, everyone’s just waiting for Belle to get to the castle so she can hang out with the entertaining flatware.
Speaking of the singing dishes and housewares, the voice cast also has some heavy hitters, including Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, Emma Thomson as Mrs. Potts, Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, and Ewan McGregor as Lumiere. Not for lack of effort, McGregor almost certainly suffers the most in comparison to his 1991 predecessor, Jerry Orbach. McGregor’s French accent isn’t great – though to his credit hardly anyone else even really bothers with an accent – and truthfully no one could displace Orbach’s classic work charming and vamping his way through “Be Our Guest.” The good news for McGregors is that the animation and visual effects will keep the audience mostly engaged during that well-known song, so he’s really just doing background music. The film on the whole is gorgeous, so it’s no surprise that the lists of people involved with visual effects, art, make-up, and special effects are a mile long.
Much of the music holds up well. That should not be surprised. Most is lifted from the timeless, award-winning score and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Some of the cast is also more vocally successful. Gad and Evans, with their musical theater backgrounds, are particularly fun to watch when it’s time to break into song. Leads Watson and Stevens were obviously cast more for their acting skill than their vocal talent, but they do a serviceable job hitting the notes. And I can’t even pretend to be unbiased when reflecting on Emma Thompson’s work singing the Oscar-winning title song. Thompson can basically do no wrong, she crushed it.
Seeing Beauty and the Beast is a uniquely subjective film-going experience – you probably already know if you’ll like it. As a casual fan of the original film, I didn’t think the remake was flawless, but I did find it generally pretty delightful. It was a relief to see that Belle and Beast do actually seem to develop a real relationship (by the fairy tale metric, anyway), and though the film is only slightly less white and only very slightly gayer than the Disney ilk from whence it came, some progress is worth something. If you’re not looking for singing furniture and a happily ever after, you probably already know this movie isn’t for you.