Review: Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête, 2014) ★★★½

There have been a number of film adaptations of Gabrielle-Suanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s famous fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. And though some versions held truer to the original story than others, all of them tell a similar story of Belle, a young and beautiful girl who is forced to stay in the castle of a surly and terrifying Beast who longs for her hand in marriage. While Belle initially spurns the Beast’s advances, she eventually comes to care for him, even as she cringes and recoils from his beastly ways. When the Beast grants Belle her wish to visit her family on the condition that she returns to him promptly, Belle gladly accepts the proposal. However, she is unable to keep her promise, and when she finally does return to the Beast’s side, she finds that he is dying, his heart broken by her absence. As Belle professes her love for the Beast, he suddenly regains his strength and is transformed into a handsome prince.

Christophe Gans’ 2014 adaptation holds true to much of the original story, but diverges at times to allow for more thrilling action and fantasy sequences. Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color, Diary of a Chambermaid) portrays Belle, and though she has proven to be a very adept and talented actress, her performance as the naïve young girl is underwhelming. The Beast is produced using CGI (and looks something like an upright lion or overgrown housecat), and he is voiced by and eventually transforms into Vincent Cassel (La Haine, Black Swan). The film is marketed for a younger audience, though the writing does little to soften some of the darker themes of the story. And even though this is admirable for the sake of authenticity, it doesn’t always work for the sake of modern storytelling. There is very little justification for Belle’s sudden change of heart, and her sudden love for the Beast who keeps her locked away under threat of death is rather jarring considering her initial hatred for him.

Despite the apparent gaps in logic, the story flows smoothly, providing a swift and enchanting introduction to the film: it is told as a story within a story, with Belle retelling her experiences to her two young children. She reads from a storybook, and this fits well with the film’s whimsical aesthetics. Drawings from the book pages transform before our eyes and help enhance the fanciful tone set by Gans’ direction.

With stunning visuals and impressive CGI, Beauty and the Beast is a delight to watch.

Perhaps the greatest part of Beauty and the Beast is the cinematography. As is so often the case with fairy tales, which have been told and retold time and time again, the visual style is what draws the viewer into the story. In this respect, Beauty and the Beast shines. We are transported to picturesque cottages with gorgeous landscapes. Adorable, wide-eyed creatures skitter around the Beast’s castle and provide a softening touch to an otherwise dreary atmosphere. The Beast’s castle looms over the surrounding forest, which teems with mysterious magic, which, though never fully explained, holds up the story, and allows for thrilling chases and climactic confrontations. The CGI, while somewhat cartoonish, is nonetheless impressive and well-executed.

One of the principal drawbacks of the film is that we are never given a close look at any of the characters. They all exist as archetypes rather than unique individuals, and as a result, we are given very little reason to care for their wellbeing. It draws the viewer out of the story when the characters are not believable. or completely two-dimensional, but this is somewhat forgivable considering it is a fairy tale aimed at a young audience.

All in all, Christophe Gans’ version of Beauty and the Beast is exciting to watch, with enough visual spectacle and charm to make up for the lack of narrative strength.

Beauty and the Beast is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Rating: ★★★½ out of 5

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