By Brad Haynes
Beauty And The Beast
★★ out of ★★★★
When Disney released The Little Mermaid in 1989, with memorable music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, they were just beginning their long reign as the masters of the animated musical. And when that film was followed up by Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (once again with music by Menken and lyrics by Ashman and Tim Rice), Disney came up with a masterpiece of animated cinema, and their first animated film to receive a nomination for Best Picture.
The next stop for Beauty and the Beast was on stage as the first of the new breed of Disney animated films to come to life on Broadway. Sticking closely to the original film’s structure, and adding more songs plus some jaw-dropping stage magic, the stage musical was a hit.
And now comes Disney’s live action (with a hefty dose of CGI) version of Beauty and the Beast.
As with many examples of stage to screen musicals before it, Beauty and the Beast suffers from sticking too closely to the source material. After a bewitching prologue, the film opens with the number “Belle,” following Emma Watson as the film’s heroine throughout the provincial town square. In the animated film it’s a bright and breezy introduction to the independent character of Belle. But in the film, which follows a similar path taken through the town by the titular Beauty, the magic seems to be lacking. In part that can be attributed to the lack of power in Watson’s slight soprano, but it also has to do with the overall look of the film, the rather drab appearance of the village and little true momentum as Belle makes her way through town. That is where we are also introduced to the film’s chief villain, Gaston (Luke Evans).
In the animated film, Gaston was a brazen blend of brawn and buffoonery, but in the hands of Evans, Belle’s suitor is far less intimidating, making his ultimate confrontation with The Beast somewhat difficult to swallow. His singing, on the other hand, is top-notch.
And speaking of Gaston, much has been made recently of the sexuality of his sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad). Yes, he seems to be enamored with Gaston, and quite possibly in love, but that’s all quite subtle. And an even more concrete example of his sexual preferences thrown out at the film’s conclusion is a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moment. What should be noted above all is that Gad, who is easily recognizable as the voice of Olaf in Frozen, displays great comic timing and is easily a highlight of the film.
As The Beast, Dan Stevens is deeply buried under makeup and CGI but brings forth the character’s pain with expressive eyes and a commanding vocal delivery.
CGI is also used to great effect with the castle’s animated objects including Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack), Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Madame Gardarobe (Audra McDonald), Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Sadly though, even with all of the state-of-the-art CGI, one of the musical’s most well-loved songs, Be Our Guest, doesn’t hold a candle to the magic of the original.
Several additional songs have been added to the film, including Hunchback-like number Evermore for The Beast, but none of them seem quite necessary, they simply contribute to the film’s two hour plus run time. What would have been nice to hear was Human Again, a riotous number that was initially cut and then finally introduced in both the stage version and the animated film’s extended cut.
The need for a 3D version of the film is questionable. The only time that 3D is particularly noticeable is when The Beast lobs a snowball at Belle (and in turn the face of the audience). It just seems gimicky.
Don’t be surprised when leaving the theater if you are asking yourself if you really needed to see a live-action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Your response will probably be, no. But it’s hard to believe that there will be anyone who was a fan of the original who won’t find themselves heading into a theater in the coming weeks to check it out. And that’s completely understandable. Just don’t expect to be swept away the same way you originally were.
The Good: It’s a lot of fun to relive the classic tunes and familiar story once again.
The Bad: Watson seems to lack the needed charisma to truly give Belle the independent spirit needed.
Final Word: While you may leave the theater disappointed, it’s hard to believe that anyone who was a fan of the original will be able to stay away.
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline, Luke Evans. Directed by Bill Condon.
Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes
Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.