Retro Movie Review: 'Beauty and the Beast' (2014)

There are no musical numbers, or enchanted teapots, to be found in this French-German adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast.” What you will find instead, is the classic story retold in a way that builds on Disney’s treasured version of the beloved fairy tale. In co-writer and director Christophe Gans’ version, Belle (Lea Seydoux) is the youngest daughter of a struggling merchant.

In the face of financial hardship; Belle, her father, and five siblings (three brothers, and two sisters), have to leave their life of opulence behind. The family eventually settles into their country cottage, and while Belle adjusts nicely to their new pastoral lifestyle, her siblings are not as enthusiastic about the change.

While out trying to find one of his sons, Belle’s father accidentally stumbles upon an “enchanted forest,” and while there he discovers an enchanted castle. After finding everything on his wish list amply provided for him, he gathers the items up and prepares to leave. Before he does, he plucks a rose for Belle.

It is then that the Beast (Vincent Cassel) descends, and tells Belle’s father that he must go home, before returning to the castle to be his servant, or he will kill his entire family. When Belle’s father returns home and informs his children about the situation, Belle leaps into action, taking her father’s place. This leads us to Belle meeting the Beast, and the contentious relationship that follows.

This “Beauty and the Beast” works hard to explain certain unknowable qualities about the original story. Instead of a man being punished for his superficial nature, this “Beauty and the Beast” offers a different origin story. 

Beauty and the Beast 2014, Movie Poster
[Image by Pathe]
The Beast’s revised past is cleverly shared with Belle, and the story takes on the overarching traits of a romantic mystery. As it unravels, “Beauty and the Beast” draws us in, to theorize about what has led a once happy and vibrant Prince, to a life cursed as a Beast.

While “Beauty and the Beast” works hard to explain the rather inexplicable aspects of its base story, it also conjures other curious plot points. Does the movie not realize that we automatically know the Prince from the flashbacks, is the Beast? Why does the Beast originally demand that Belle’s dad be his servant? Does he sense the man’s daughter will switch places with him? 

The most puzzling question, is why Belle falls in love with the Beast, at all? It is easy to understand why the sweet, courageous, and fiery Belle earns the Beast’s affection, but why he earns hers is a great mystery. 

Right after she arrives, he begins pestering her about whether she can fall in love with him. When she argues she cannot, he attempts an insulting strategy to buy her affection. Unfortunately, there is no character development that shows us why they fall in love, as people. While Belle has traits that make her a lovable person, they never get to know each other beyond that base knowledge. It is for all intents and purposes, a rather shallow love affair.

Beauty and the Beast 2014, Movie Poster
[Image by Pathe]
The movie’s underpinnings as a story about love’s transformative power are therefore lost. The love story told in the flashbacks nearly overshadows the principal story we are supposed to be rooting for, to unfold between the Beast and Belle. Where “Beauty and the Beast” leaves those questions not entirely realized it helps makes sense of Belle, and her fairy tale ending, which culminates with a hinted twist. 

The tale of "Beauty and the Beast" has been told many times throughout the years, so it is impossible to invent the wheel, and competing with the iconic imagery of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” provides France’s version with a difficult challenge. 

To its credit, the latter manages to carve out something special, by creating a similar vibe to Disney’s adaptation, while also creating an entirely unique presentation. Albeit, there are echoes of “The Princess Bride” in the way the story is told. The special effects are well done, and cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne conjures an enchanting visual world that holds the eye. 

For English-speakers, hoping to take in the movie without reading subtitles, there is outstanding news. The DVD features an English dub-over, performed by the film’s cast. It is a vast improvement that helps one better lose themselves in the performances of the actors, as their voices match.

Terrific performances by Lea Seydoux as a dreamy, yet realistic Belle, and Vincent Cassel as a surly, yet charismatic, Beast, further enhance the film. “Beauty and the Beast” (or “La Belle et la Bete”) is a worthy addition to the slew of “Beauty and the Beast” adaptations. It is neither pure beauty nor utter beast, rather something pleasantly in-between. Rating: 6.5/10

[Featured Image by Pathe]

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