March 17, 2017 11:27 am

‘Beauty and the Beast’ review: A tale as old as time, revisited

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Twenty-six years after Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast dazzled audiences, the studio is back with a live-action version.

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To say that the 2017 iteration deviates from the original would be a bald-faced lie; they’re essentially the same movie, as if some magical wizard took the live-action footage directly from the animation cells and made it three-dimensional. The film has some new songs and plot tangents shoehorned in, most of them unmemorable or superfluous, to make sure it’s at least a touch different from the classic version.

In some ways the new movie comes across as a play on-screen, with broad shots, sweeps and large choruses. The script, essentially lifted from the 1991 movie, has exact lines repeated with the same emphasis on specific words. (If you’ve seen the original on multiple occasions, you may find yourself quoting the upcoming lines in your head.)

READ MORE: Alabama movie theatre bans Beauty And The Beast over movie’s openly gay character

Why bother making it at all, then, if it’s the same?

A fair question. But this seems to be the trend nowadays, doesn’t it? The 1991 original is so beloved, and was released during Disney’s so-called “Golden Age,” that it makes sense the studio would want to re-release it, all shiny and new. The 2017 version is at its toe-tapping best during its most popular songs — namely Belle to start off the film — and it’s easy to get swept up in the nostalgia of it all. The costumes and set design are stunning, and the Beast (Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame) special effects are really quite something.

What is new this time around?

Well, there are a few plotlines that are new, presumably placed in there to fill the gaps of the original. Like, for example, where is Belle’s mother? What happened to her? How do the Beast and Belle actually fall in love? These things are addressed (arguably needlessly), and add a considerable increase to the film’s running time. Clocking in at just over two hours, you may wonder why bother with these additional plot points, since the majority of the audience is already familiar with the story.

There are some new songs, too, but they fade into the fog, superseded by the already-great original songs that everyone knows the words to. It’s tough to introduce some ho-hum tunes when the movie already has so many memorable ones that we’ve been hearing for literal decades.

What about that “gay” scene I keep hearing about?

It is so nothing, and it is barely noticeable. If you’ll recall, in the original film, Le Fou (the blubbering buffoon who essentially follows Gaston everywhere, played by Josh Gad in the new movie) is even more doting on Gaston. Where the 2017 movie crosses the line into “gay” is uncertain. There’s even a piece of dialogue where Gaston asks Le Fou why he doesn’t have more luck with women, almost as if to drive the point home that Le Fou is not, in fact, gay. And why would a gay man try so hard to get attention from the town’s women?

In any event, does it matter? This reporter was hard-pressed to spot anything remotely suggestive — and those things were framed as jokes (as in it’s “funny” to be gay), which is even more troubling.

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How is Emma Watson as Belle?

Watson fits the part, right down to her “provincial” look and blue dress. Disney didn’t try to keep it secret that Watson doesn’t have the strongest singing voice; it’s almost like the studio was testing the waters when it released Watson singing Belle months prior to the film’s opening. She’s merely passable in the role, bringing Belle to life in the most generic way possible. You have to hand it to her, though, because this is an iconic character — a cartoon character — and Watson manages to replicate her as best she can.

Her singing (with the exception of her solos) is usually accompanied by a chorus or backup singers, so it’s not that noticeable that there’s no vibrato or real strength behind her voice. The pressure on Watson to sing, considering it’s not her forté, must have been substantial; so with that in mind, she did a pretty bang-up job.

So what’s the bottom line?

For fans of the original movie, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is a nostalgic trip into the past. Select moments, like the camera panning over the mountain into the town at the beginning, or the Beast saving Belle from the wolves, will stir your heart and trigger memories. It’s an homage to the Disney heyday, and for lovers of stage and musicals, it’s a must-see.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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