Some love the update but others are wondering what's the point.
Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” a live-action remake of its 1991 animated musical, starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as The Prince/Beast, is getting mixed reviews from critics. Some love it for its nods to the original, and others see it as an unnecessary rehash of a classic.
The film follows the 1991 version faithfully, but ads one noteworthy change: Josh Gad’s LeFou is gay, the first time an openly gay character has been featured in a a Disney film. Director Bill Condon has said the change is a tribute to the late Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS after writing the lyrics to the original film. In the film, LeFou briefly dances with another male character.
Condon’s tribute sparked criticism from some. The Russian government, which initially planned to ban the film entirely, eventually decided no one under 16 could see it without an accompanying adult. Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board demanded the scene be cut, but Disney refused. A movie theater in Henagar, Alabama, refused to show it, with the owners releasing a since-deleted statement via Facebook: “When companies continually force their views on us we need to take a stand. We all make choices and I am making mine.”
Critics who have been favorable love the update and the freshness it brings to the story, but others are less than enchanted. The film got a 68 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
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Seattle Times reviewer Moira Macdonald, was skeptical but was quickly won over:
“The new film’s opening moments include a giant 3D red rose that seemed on the verge of beautifully devouring the audience, the irresistible spectacle of Dan Stevens’ Prince (pre-Beast) sprawled louchely on a gleaming throne as throngs of exquisitely gowned women whirl on a dance floor, and the glorious gilded-bird trill of Audra McDonald’s operatic soprano. It was gorgeous, it was over-the-top to the point of absurdity — and just like that, I was all in.”
The New York Post’s Sara Stewart went a step further saying the reboot is better than the inferior cartoon:
“Really, everybody wins. If you want your old favorite dressed in sumptuous new clothes, that’s what you’ll get. Those who always desired a little more depth from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ will be happy, too: There’s something there that wasn’t there before.”
A.O. Scott from the New York Times says its more than a dutiful trip back to the pop-culture fairy-tale well:
“Its classicism feels unforced and fresh. Its romance neither winks nor panders. It looks good, moves gracefully and leaves a clean and invigorating aftertaste. I almost didn’t recognize the flavor: I think the name for it is joy.”
The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr wonders why we need a new “Beauty and the Beast” in the first place:
“The movie looks great (if overstuffed), it sounds decent, and it eventually summons a spirit of storybook romance and rightness to satisfy the target kiddies. But this version rarely convinces you it needed to be made at all, and it inadvertently proves that a 2-D cartoon can be the more powerful, cleanly told narrative object.”
Shiny, but not exactly new is how A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd describes the updated version:
“Once content merely rereleasing or straight-to-video sequelizing its vast canon of animated classics, Disney has recently turned to remaking them with actors and sets and CGI wizardry. But most of these do-overs, from the lightly revisionist Maleficent to last year’s state-of-the-art Jungle Book, at least attempt to do something different with their source material. The Mouse House has taken no such chances with Beauty And The Beast. The plot, the characters, the cheerful Howard Ashman and Alan Menken tunes: all have been faithfully recycled, as though some enchantress had waved her wand over an old cartoon and suddenly brought it screaming into the flesh-and-blood world.”