Something about the intuitive, feelings-saturated movies allowed Owen Suskind, through repeated viewings, to develop some understanding of human interaction. It’s not possible to be certain, but 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is unlikely to replace the 1991 original in Owen’s collection. This almost shot-for-shot live-action remake is husk rather than essence.
The original cartoon sits next to Grease in the pantheon of superior cornball musicals. Both consist of undeniable songs planted in swoony, problematic stories.
In Beauty and the Beast, a handsome prince is finally punished for his narcissism by a magical crone, condemned by a spell to eternal ugliness and isolation as the Beast. Languishing in a nearby village, beautiful Belle longs for a life beyond her idyllic province, and scorns the attentions of magnificent pillock Gaston. Circumstance leads her to the Beast’s castle, where she’s kept hostage until she falls in love with her captor and his curse is reversed.
As Owen Suskind could tell you, human impersonations of cartoons are vastly inferior to actual cartoons, and the actors in Beauty and the Beast aren’t as vital as the pen-and-ink characters they supplant.
In the Harry Potter series, Emma Watson managed to make know-it-all Hermione merely insipid rather than insufferable, an achievement you can’t fully appreciate until you spend time with her snotty Belle; and as the reedy Beast, Stevens shows slightly less life than in the Downton Abbey scene during which he bled to death under a car.
Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad)
The villain isn’t much better. Gaston, the original gym-swollen pickup-artist and the only human Disney character with chest hair, needs to be equal parts loathsome and charismatic. Disappointingly, Luke Evans is hammy rather than beefy, and dim and besotted rather than brainless and boorish. And he’s not ‘roughly the size of a barge’, although that’s hardly his fault.
The only character to improve upon its original version is Ian McKellen’s talking clock Cogsworth, but you have to wonder what McKellen thought of the film’s rushed, token and worrying representation of homosexuality.
Implying that the sycophancy of Gaston’s sidekick LeFou stems from suppressed attraction isn’t applause-worthy – a fat, simpering, marginalised baddie is hardly a creditable role model, and some of the extras treat LeFou with a backs-against-the-wall-lads alarm that undermines whatever good-intention karma Disney was hoping to accrue.
There’s not much point delving into the politics of Beauty and the Beast – it was still a regressive fantasy back in 1991, even before Shrek did a big, sarcastic Angela Carter number on it. But it still has the best songs of any Disney film, and they remain powerfully hummable in this new and deeply unnecessary version.
|What||Beauty and the Beast film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
17 Mar 17 – 12 May 17, Event times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to visit the film's IMDB page|