BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Stanley Tucci
Disney’s animated classic (in my opinion) Beauty and the Beast was the first full-length animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the 1992 Academy Awards. It’s hard not to have the catchy Alan Menken and Howard Ashman songs stuck in your head after you watch it. Even as an adult, it still holds up. Since then, Disney turned it into an epic stage musical for Broadway and now has reimagined it again turning it into a live action spectacle hoping to make audiences fall in love again with a tale as old as time. In a nearby castle, a young dashing prince (Stevens) is transformed into a monstrous beast after dismissing a beggar woman that comes to his door. Part of that curse turns all of the guests in the castle into household objects. In order to reverse the curse he must fall in love before the last pedal drops from the rose she has given him. Years pass by and the castle becomes a dark and gloomy place.
In a nearby village, Belle (Watson) spends her days lost in a book or helping her father, Maurice (Kline), with his latest inventions that may or may not work. She also happens to be the object of affection for the town chauvinist, Gaston (Evans). Every girl in the village swoons over Gaston except for Belle. Maurice heads out one day traveling to show off his latest creation. He reaches the edge of town making his way to the castle to avoid the snow and wolves that chase him and his horse. A little snooping goes too far when the Beast takes him prisoner. The trusty horse returns to Belle and brings her to the castle. It’s a Disney movie, just go with it. She allows the Beast to keep her prisoner in exchange for her father’s freedom. The castle’s magic does not go unnoticed by Maurice and Belle when Lumiere (McGregor) the candlestick and Cogsworth (McKellen) the talking clock make their presence known. Lumiere is the forever romantic and believes Belle may be the one to break the curse. He takes it upon himself to gather the other household objects including his feather duster girlfriend Plumette (Mbatha-Raw), teapot Mrs. Potts (Thompson) and her son Chip, a wardrobe (McDonald), and an organ (Tucci) to aid in getting the Beast to fall in love with Belle.
Disney’s on this huge spree of turning all of their animated films into live action blockbusters. Cinderella and The Jungle Book were huge successes artistically and financially. While Alice in Wonderland made bank, it was lackluster in every other regard. I’d throw Beauty and the Beast in the middle of that continuum. Expectations were high as to how Disney would make a Beast, a candelabra or singing teapot come to life. Director Bill Condon is no stranger at bringing large musicals to life after writing Chicago and directing Dreamgirls. He also directed Mr. Holmes and the final two Twilight movies. He and his creative team have decided on keeping the characters as realistic looking as possible as opposed to going the Broadway route of having actors in costumes that resemble their character’s objects. I wish they would have gone the latter route. While Lumiere looks like a tangible copper candelabra, it’s a little odd to then have an animated mouth on it. Same goes for Mrs. Potts and her drawn on face.
This new adaptation is considerably longer than the animated movie. Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos have stayed extremely faithful to the previous script while adding backstory for Belle and the Beast. With Condon’s background in movie musicals, he knows how to make the big production numbers come to life. This new adaptation uses plenty of the adored music from the animated movie as well as brand new music written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Gone are the musical numbers written for the Broadway show. Again, I wonder why they made such a choice outside of just hoping for some Oscar love for the new song “Evermore”, which is sung by the Beast. The big group numbers like “Belle” and “Gaston” are rollicking good fun, and it makes you want to sing along.
The supporting players in this love story are the actual standouts in the film, especially Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor. They know how to use their voices and play into the over-the-top nature of Disney characters. As Gaston, Luke Evans perfectly captures the chauvinist qualities and probably has the best singing voice outside of Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe. Hearing her sing part of the title song is worth the price of admission. Kevin Kline brings an endearing vibe without playing too much into “Crazy Ol’ Maurice.” The film’s leads of Emma Watson and Dan Stevens feel a bit miscast. Watson has the innocence but has a new, somewhat off-putting, take on Belle. Belle always had a quirky and charming sensibility to her, but Watson doesn’t quite bring that side out of Belle. Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens can’t overcome the fact that he’s essentially a voice-over character behind clunky CGI.
The overreliance on special effects to make the castle’s objects come to life is the film’s ultimate downfall. It feels too animated and doesn’t make the movie seem as magical as it could and should be. While The Jungle Book was practically all CGI, the animals felt so real and lifelike. Now, I get that the same concept can’t exactly be replicated here, but the final product doesn’t have the enchanting quality that you would expect it to have. It’s a bit hard to swoon over a realistic Belle falling for an animated Beast. Maybe I’m being too cranky. Beauty and the Beast is being presented in both 2D and 3D, and my screening was in 3D. I’ve grumbled at nauseam that post-production 3D conversion can ruin special effects, so maybe we’re seeing that here. Maybe a 2D Beast isn’t as rough around the edges. Maybe he feels more in tune with the advancements in motion capture technology when he’s not presented in 3D. I just had a hard time feeling any sort of connection between the two of them even when we hear the title number sung by Emma Thompson. There are plenty of reasons to see Beauty and the Beast even if the central casting and animation doesn’t always work. Parents should take caution as some of the darker moments, especially the climax, may be too scary for wee little moviegoers.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? It’s still entertaining for fans of the original even if it’s not as romantic and magical.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS