That Old Disney Magic Returns in Beauty and the Beast

Reviews of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Belko Experiment," plus local movie news and notes.




photo courtesy disney. © 2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
 

The fabled Disney Renaissance, that late-century period of commercial and artistic success in the studio’s animation division, is responsible more than any other single factor for making Disney a media juggernaut. In all likelihood, there would be no “Avengers” or “The Force Awakens” were it not for “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King.”

Revisiting the most beloved properties from that period, then, is a process wrought with pitfalls. How to please dedicated fans who grew up with — and remain devoted to — influential classics of animation? Adapting favorites into Broadway musicals is one thing; trying to recreate the magic on screen is quite another.

Among the Renaissance-era works, there may be none so dearly beloved as “Beauty and the Beast.” The 1991 film was the first work of animation nominated for Best Picture by the Academy; it remains the third highest-grossing animated film of the 20th century, behind only “The Lion King” and “Toy Story 2.”

The film’s legacy was made by embodying the spirit of Disney magic — princes and princesses, dreamy landscapes, lavish musical numbers — better than any of its contemporaries. Arguments could be made that “The Lion King” is more artful or that “Aladdin” is a better all-around effort, but none is quite so enchanting as “Beauty and the Beast” (in spite of some problematic content around the nature of the film’s core relationship).

So the forces behind the new, live-action “Beauty and the Beast” focused first and foremost on the magic — and succeeded. The new film, under the direction of Bill Condon and as adapted by Pittsburgh native Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, is undoubtedly more lovely and visually lush than any from Disney’s live-action division. Deftly utilizing cutting-edge visual effects and classical art direction and production design, this “Beast” truly embodies the cliche of the storybook come to life — or, perhaps more accurately, the cartoon.

It’s visual language is straight out of the 1991 film, from the shades of Belle’s attire to the rich darkness of the Beast’s castle. The familiar songs are rendered faithfully — somehow, “Be Our Guest” is even more of a showstopping set piece this time around — and new songs written for this adaptation fit in seamlessly.

Any adaptation was always going to hinge on the casting of Belle; the tale is hers, after all, and the Beast is more obstacle than cohort for the film’s protagonist. There’s something very sly about choosing Emma Watson for the part; of course, she’s talented and charming, but we might’ve expected that. In combining one generation’s iconic heroine (Belle) with another’s (Hermione Granger), Disney is making one thing perfectly clear — this remains a story about a self-determined, intellectual princess.

And yet, is it? The criticisms of the original “Beauty and the Beast” took on the idea that Belle was a modern heroine; after all, she eventually falls in love with her captor, a development that has been cast as everything from Stockholm Syndrome to an outright apology for emotional and physical abuse. In this version, Belle is even more willful and independent.

So doesn’t that make it more confusing when she eventually grows devoted to the Beast?

Those debates and more will always be part of the culture around both the old “Beast” and the new one. As well they should be. They should not, however, detract from the overall quality of the film — which, I must admit, is quite high. The performances are spot-on; the look of the film is rapturous.

And yes — that old Disney magic is alive here again, more vividly and more distinctly than any of the company’s recent efforts (plenty of which have been perfectly good in their own right). Younger viewers will likely be swept away by this film, as their parents were a generation ago — and those parents will gladly take the journey as well.

*    *    *

Meanwhile, a highly anticipated indie horror flick arrives in local theaters and swiftly disappoints. The premise behind “The Belko Experiment” was more than serviceable; borrowing liberally from “Battle Royale,” the film promised to lock a group of coworkers in a sprawling office building and force them to fight to the death. In execution, though, not nearly enough was made from that setup. Some nice performances by a group of character actors — Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley and Michael Rooker are great — help, and there’s a few tense moments and jarring shocks. But the rules of the universe are poorly defined (and not that compelling as things press on) and the ending is unsatisfying. It’ll do fine for a streaming choice on some future sleepy afternoon, but I wouldn’t run to the theater.

*    *    *

The Montage: In yesterday’s edition of After Dark, I ran down my first visit to the new Tull Family Theater in Sewickley. The short version: It’s a lovely place with great offerings. Click here to read the longer version ... Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant are always welcome on the silver screen, and this time around, you’ll even get a meal out of going to see them. The Hollywood Theater's “Breakfast and a Movie” selection for the month is “Bringing Up Baby” ... The very well-reviewed “Personal Shopper” will open locally on March 31 ... Plenty to come next week about the CMU International Film Festival. For now, size up the schedule and grab some tickets.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Think Globally Eat Locally

Think Globally Eat Locally

Pittsburgh slowly is moving closer to becoming a global dining destination while maintaining a culinary connection to its industrial past. PM Dining critic Hal B. Klein profiles 16 international restaurants you need to visit.
Meet Pittsburgh's 40 Under 40 Honorees for 2017

Meet Pittsburgh's 40 Under 40 Honorees for 2017

We present this year's class of 40 people under the age of 40 who are making Pittsburgh a better place.
Chasing Rabbits: Why Tuomas Sandholm Almost Always Wins

Chasing Rabbits: Why Tuomas Sandholm Almost Always Wins

The winding career path of Tuomas Sandholm has taken detours through kidney transplants, Texas Hold ’em, windsurfing and more. Next, he’d like to save the planet.
Restaurant Review: Meet the New Crew at Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Meet the New Crew at Smallman Galley

The second class of Smallman Galley chefs offer addictive Detroit-style pizza and other works-in-progress.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


See the Video Pittsburgh Hopes Will Lure Amazon's HQ2

See the Video Pittsburgh Hopes Will Lure Amazon's HQ2

The video is part of the city's effort to snag Amazon's second headquarters, which is expected to bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment..

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Parts & Service Adds Pizza To Superior Motors

Parts & Service Adds Pizza To Superior Motors

Executive Chef Kevin Sousa and Pastry Chef Kate Carney are cooking sourdough pizza in an outdoor brick oven.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

While we all know and love the grandeur of the fountain at Point State Park, there are many hidden fountain gems throughout the city. These are a few of our lesser-known favorites.

Comments


A Mysterious (But Messy) Night at the Museum with DODO

A Mysterious (But Messy) Night at the Museum with DODO

A review of "DODO," the immersive-theater production currently taking place at the Carnegie Museums by Bricolage Production Company.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
It's What Steelers Do After Kansas City That Matters

It's What Steelers Do After Kansas City That Matters

The team is more than capable of beating the Bengals Sunday, but are they willing to keep their eye on the ball long enough to begin stacking victories again for a change?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

Robert Hallett, Goldsmith, handcrafts the jewelry in his Oakmont shop.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Firefighter Flick Only the Brave is a Moving Tribute

Firefighter Flick Only the Brave is a Moving Tribute

Reviews of "Only the Brave" and "The Florida Project," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

In honor of fall, we’re showcasing three couples whose proposals involved one of the best things about the season: pumpkins.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Holiday How-To: Upgrade Your Fall Decor with Advice from Local Experts

Holiday How-To: Upgrade Your Fall Decor with Advice from Local Experts

Interior designers share their tips on creating easy, elegant décor that will take you from Halloween through Thanksgiving.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments