Overview: To save her father, a young woman agrees to live with a prince who was cursed with a beastly appearance, and the two begin to fall for each other. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; 2017; Rated PG; 129 minutes.
A Tale As Old As Time: For many moviegoers who still hold fond memories of watching the 1991 animated feature–which introduced the set of iconic musical numbers penned by returning lead composer Alan Menken for the first time–Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is indeed a tale as old as time. As yet another adaptation of the well-worn French fantasy fable by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont–which was itself penned way back in the mid-18th century and has since been adapted multiple time over for both TV and film–Disney’s version of Beaumont’s romantic allegory has proven itself to be as timelessly applicable on its own terms. Watching the bright young damsel Belle gradually fall in love with the tender soul that lies behind the grisly visage of the Beast is immediately magical and transports the viewer into a world that is by turns enchantingly alien and intimately mundane. In Belle, any young woman who has found herself swept up in various fictions and histories only to be let down by their immediate realities is endlessly charming; and in the Beast, man’s strivings towards seeming approachable to the object of his most tender affections is poetically articulated. It’s just too bad that the finer dressings that make up the rest of director Bill Condon’s latest take on the contemporary movie musical falls flat.
Reimagining A Classic: For Condon, whose past work includes the Oscar winning movie musical adaptation of Dreamgirls from 2006 and the Ian McKellen period drama Mr. Holmes from 2015, Beauty and the Beast would seem like the perfect material for the American filmmaker to turn to next. What’s more, the entire cast and crew is filled to the brim with unmistakable lead talents that should have had no problem at all in recreating the late 20th century Disney masterpiece for a whole new generation of captive audiences. Yet most of Condon’s Beauty and the Beast fails to meet the mark on far too many of its sweeping musical numbers and dramatic set pieces. And for a major motion picture production that’s already a widely well known and critically renowned multi-million dollar property, that’s a sizable shortcoming in terms of quality that will no doubt affect its staying power in the minds of viewers hearing Menken’s iconic musical numbers for the first time in 2017.
Rebooting The Past: It’s unavoidable that several of the greatest movies of the 20th century are going to continue to see big budget reboots over the course of the 21st century, and by and large movies like Beauty and the Beast will be made and perform considerably better than most other theatrical releases featuring original screenplays. With movies like last year’s The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon already setting a clear precedent for future releases from Disney–and with further revisionist takes on The Lion King and The Little Mermaid already on the way–box office returns will continue to dictate the creative direction of production studios for years to come at the expense of diminishing the legacies of properties like Beauty and the Beast.
Overall: Beauty and the Beast is already performing above and beyond anyone’s wildest expectations and will probably please general audiences just fine. Its narrative is already familiar, and for most that will probably be more than enough reason to applaud its good intentions. But in Condon’s tone deaf nostalgia for a classic that didn’t need to be remade or recast in the first place, Beauty and the Beast is a glaring misfire in Disney’s recent string of live-action reboots.
Featured Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures