Disclaimer: I was invited to an early press screening of the film.
The original Beauty & the Beast is, in my opinion, one of Disney’s finest animated fairytales, taking the essential elements of the folk tale and distilling them down to tight 90-minute runtime, packed with memorable characters and some truly spectacular musical numbers.
Sadly, though, it seems that Disney has forgotten what made this original film great as, it pains me to say that Beauty & the Beast (2017) is the very definition of bloated Hollywood filmmaking.
In an attempt to please the widest audience possible, in every WAY possible, the filmmakers here are throwing everything in, along with the kitchen sink (the kitchen sink, by the way, is played by Tom Hanks).
In translating one of the most beloved animated features of all time to live-action, the focus has shifted to pure spectacle. Whether that’s the loud and uninteresting CGI-heavy action sequences or the fact that every single character is portrayed by a celebrity (often to the detriment of the singing performances), Disney has attempted to wow audiences in ways that original could not and in doing so, the film has lost a little of its soul.
The film is also too long. I don’t know when it became unwritten law that every blockbuster had to teeter on the edge of three hours long, but this one certainly feels stretched thin. Musical numbers are extended, extra superfluous scenes added, even additional musical numbers have been cooked up, and no, they don’t hold even a tiny birthday candle to the classics of the 1991 original.
In the film’s favor, the additional backstory given to Belle’s family unit hints at a darker and more interesting route the filmmakers could have taken to differentiate this from its predecessor but even this isn’t given enough screentime to grow into any substantial depth to the development of these slightly re-imagined characters.
Ultimately the most enjoyable elements end up being the ones that remain largely unchanged. Alan Menken’s inspiring songs remain the beating heart of the piece, delivering the thrills that the CGI scenes cannot. Despite my problems with the casting, all performances are solid. Rising star Emma Watson shines as the naive but headstrong Belle, providing a role model for little girls everywhere, while Luke Evan’s swaggering Gaston is every bit as side-splittingly obnoxious as his animated counterpart. Josh Gad’s LeFou benefits greatly from extended screentime, with a surprisingly nuanced reading, although Gad (as always) plays it a little too broad.
At it’s best this is escapism at it’s most crowd-pleasing, you can almost hear the Disney execs happily checking boxes as you watch. But to the cynical viewer, Beauty & the Beast lays bare the Hollywood machine, uncomfortably drawing attention to the grinding of its gears. While many will feel swept away by the indulgence of this big-budget fantasy, this is creatively bankrupt filmmaking, that, despite its pleasures, sets an alarming precedent for Disney’s future output.