Beauty and the Beast
2016, PG-13, 112 min. Directed by Christophe Gans. Starring Vincent Cassel, Léa Seydoux, André Dussollier, Eduardo Noreiga, Miriam Charleins, Audrey Lamy, Jonathan Demurger.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 7, 2016
This umpteenth film adaptation of the 18th-century Gallic fairy tale about a cursed prince who imprisons a beautiful jeune fille in his enchanted castle in the hope she may one day fall in love with him is awash in computer-generated imagery so dewy it nearly drips off the screen. Whether this gossamer visual effect is artistically intentional or budget constrained is debatable. Whatever the reason, it smothers the movie’s beating heart, rendering it a faint murmur veiled by a diaphanous sheen. The tableaux inspired by the Old Masters and Maxfield Parrish are storybook lovely, but where’s the love? You’d think this 2014 French retelling of the oft-told tale would prioritize romantic substance over sensory form – after all, those guys are known for snobbishly protecting their culture (as least that’s the stereotype) – but the film could be easily mistaken for an Americanized treatment of the story but for the language, subtitles, and presence of Seydoux (Beauty) and Cassel (The Beast) in the starring roles. Come to think of it, a mega-buck, live-action Hollywood production starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens is currently getting prepped for a big release next year. Why the fascination with these two species-crossed lovers in movie after movie after movie?
Perhaps the answer lies in Jean Cocteau’s 1946 gorgeous black-and-white rendition of the timeless romance, which will forever haunt all remakes and reboots. It’s a piece of cinematic poetry, the stuff of dreams. The only time this Beauty and the Beast comes close to conveying any real magic, however, comes when Belle agrees to dance with her captor in return for allowing a visit to her family one last time. The majestic sweep of their movement across the castle floor harkens back to the groundbreaking scene in the 1991 animated movie that jumpstarted the Disney Studios juggernaut in the Nineties. Thankfully, there are no singing teapots or dancing candlesticks on display here, but floppy-eared creatures resembling meerkats scurry about the citadel and stony giants traipse the countryside in fee-fi-fo-fum fashion instead. They look about as realistic as Xbox action figures circa 2005. Cassel’s feline visage, covered in a velvety layer of fur for most of the movie, doesn’t fare much better. At times, he resembles an angry cast member from Cats rather than the tormented fiend trying to find his human self once again. It’s beastly.