Rated PG for action violence, peril and frightening images
Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Directed by Bill Condon
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald and more
Grade: One and a half stars
Change isn’t always a good thing.
That’s painfully apparent in Disney’s live action “Beauty and the Beast,” which is full of small, arbitrary changes that slowly but surely dismantle the entire logic of the plot. Though the visuals are excellent, and the cast does their best, there was clearly so little thought put into most of the movie’s alterations that the entire thing turns into a frustrating mess.
The changes start immediately, with a different backstory for the Beast that ages him up to somewhere between 18-22 instead of the teenager he was in the animated movie. This, presumably, was done to make the enchantress who cursed him seem like a better person (she cursed an entire castle just because one teenage boy was rude to her), but it has the unfortunate effect of turning the Beast into a jerk.
In the animated movie, he was a teenager in a too-big body, complete with anger issues, the tendency to get flustered easily, and a complete inability to talk to girls. Here, he’s a mostly calm snob who calls Beauty the “daughter of a common thief” when she first shows up at the castle (this is after he’s been furry for several years) and shows her the library as part of an effort to show her what “worthy” reading books are (apparently, he doesn’t think very much of “Romeo and Juliet.”) The animated Beast, you’ll remember, showed Beauty the library solely to make her smile. The occasional witty repartee we get in exchange is definitely not worth the loss of the old Beast.
We also get a ton of unnecessary backstory. The movie throws in the fact that Beast had a dead mother and a “cruel” father, and that the castle staff deserve being transformed into furniture because they did nothing when the supposedly cruel father was somehow influencing the Beast into becoming more like him. Also, an enchanted time- and space-traveling book is added to the movie solely for the sake of a scene where we go back in time and find out that Beauty’s mother died of the plague. There is no other purpose to this magical plot device, which is never brought up again even when the castle is being overrun and it would serve as an excellent escape route.
Also, the movie dramatically reduces Gaston’s jerkiness for the first half of the movie. Not only is there no impromptu wedding, but they’ve carefully scrubbed his lines clean of all rudeness and denigrating talk to the point that he seems like a fairly nice ex-soldier who’s a little cocky and doesn’t like reading much. He’s even nice to Le Fou, at least until halfway through the movie where he suddenly has a complete personality change and becomes even more cruel than he was in the animated movie. Gaston’s thuggishness may have made the filmmakers uncomfortable, but it was needed to justify everything he does in the second half. Without it, the sudden shift is absolutely baffling.
(As for Le Fou, his “gayness” serves only as an alternate explanation for why he supports Gaston. It’s never stated, never even implied beyond the kind of jokes you’d find between two male friends in an average TV show, and is relevant only in one very brief scene where he’s dancing with a man.)
These changes, along with others, create an entire domino effect of smaller changes, none of which make any more sense. The cast tries valiantly to make the most of the situation – Ewan McGregor comes closest as Lumiere – but there’s too much working against them.
If you have any impulse to watch this movie, do yourself a favor and simply re-watch your DVD or Blu-Ray of the 1991 animated version. Except for the visuals, it’s a far better movie in every single respect.
Sometimes, you just can’t improve on a classic.