Beauty and the Beast Review
Directed By: Bill Condon
Written By: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos; Based on the 1991 animated movie written by Linda Woolverton
Runtime: 129 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images
Emma Watson – Belle
Dan Stevens – Beast
Luke Evans – Gaston
Josh Gad – LeFou
Kevin Kline – Maurice
Ewan McGregor – Lumière
Ian McKellen – Cogsworth
Emma Thompson – Mrs. Potts
Hattie Morahan – Agathe
Audra McDonald – Madame Garderobe
Stanley Tucci – Maestro Cadenza
Nathan Mack – Chip
The 1991 animated feature, Beauty and the Beast, is one of The Walt Disney Company’s most beloved classics. In the last two-plus decades, the film has received renowned acclaim, and it’s still regarded as one of the company’s best films ever made. It’s the first animated feature to receive a Best Picture nomination by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So, it’s not surprising at all that Disney would attempt a live-action adaptation of the motion picture for the big screen. Disney had already produced a live Broadway stage version of the animated film, which debuted not long after the film’s release. Considering Disney has found a ton of success in creating new live-action versions of its most celebrated classics from the Disney animated library, an update for Beauty and the Beast was inevitable. But, is the effort for director Bill Condon, plus the returning music composer Alan Menken, worth it? Well, in some parts yes. In other parts, not so much.
The live-action versions retells the story of one young Belle (Watson), a well-read girl who lives in her small, provincial town in France along with her artisan father, Maurice (Kline). Belle is essentially seen as the black sheep of her village since she likes to read, and she’s a modern thinker. She likes to spend her spare time teaching other young girls to read and thinking of creative ways to build an early, automated washing machine (powered by a donkey). Belle’s appeal is not gone unnoticed by the town war hero and alpha male, Gaston (Evans), who wishes to make Belle his wife. But, Belle makes it clear she has no interest in Gaston.
Maurice on his way to a yearly market trip is waylaid after taking path through the dark woods and getting chased by wolves. He takes refuge in a dilapidated castle that is home to a vicious and savage Beast (Stevens). The Beast takes Maurice prisoner for attempting to steal a white rose from his garden. Much like the original film, Belle is able to track down her father back to the castle and meets The Beast, volunteering to take her father’s place as the creature’s prisoner. The Beast and his castle’s servants, who now take the form of various objects, were once human, and the Beast was once a prince for the kingdom. However, the Prince’s vain and cruel behavior caused an Enchantress to curse him with a magical spell, causing his furry visage, along with the other servants. The servants hope that with Belle’s presence, the Beast may fall in love with her, and if she can fall in love with him, their terrible curse will be broken.
In terms of execution, Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos do keep the musical aspect from the original animated film, but they have rewritten quite a few chunks of Linda Woolverton’s original story. It’s understandable, since the original film is only 84 minutes long, which would be way too short for a live-action musical. So, while much of the story is the same as the original, it’s been padded out with extra scenes and musical numbers to fill out the viewing experience. On on the one hand, the animated film is as pretty close to perfection as possible for a satisfying animated motion picture. On the other hand, this is the same story, but it’s not trying to execute that story in an animated medium. The medium has changed, and storytelling aspects had to change as a result. So, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Some of the ways in which the story has been lengthened to pad out the runtime does feel a lot like padding. There are more subplots for the servant characters woven into the narrative. The Beast has his own solo musical number this time, which is actually quite good with the song “Evermore.” In short, some of the changes work in servicing the live-action format. Other parts just feel like ways to pad out the run time, specifically giving the Beast a larger backstory, so everyone knows and understands what made him a Beast before his curse. Those are the changes that come off as more perfunctory ways to further explain parts of the story that don’t really need explanation and to possibly justify behavior by the Beast that some critics would consider abhorrent.
Where the movie just has lesser impact and it’s hard to ignore the comparison is with the song performances. Emma Watson is a great actor and performer. She’s clearly doing her noted best in the singing role of Belle, but her version of Belle is just lacking that extra verve in voice to truly blow you away and fall in love with that character. Watson’s clearly a first-time singer here, and it clearly shows. So, it’s great to hear some of these classic songs again, but some of them simply feel a little diminished. Watson is a strong, likable Belle, but her vocal performance is very lacking.
Credit should be given to Condon in some areas because he definitely pulls off the “Be Our Guest” sequence and hits it out of the park here. This is really where the movie shined the most, and Ewan McGregor equally nails the material with his take on Lumière, and he’s really the brightest spot of the whole movie.
In terms of Dan Stevens’ Beast, his work and performance are there. However, the CG motion capture work just feels like it’s missing something. It’s a CG character realization that’s decent, but it’s never quite good enough. One wonders why practical effects makeup and prosthetics would be such a drawback in this case. There have been some mixed reactions towards the Beast’s somber, solo performance with “Evermore,” but it featured some good music and was really the best piece of new music composed for the film.
Luke Evans and Josh Gad make quite the pair as Gaston and LeFour respectively. Evans’ was definitely prepared for a strong singing and vocal performance, and it makes “The Mob Song” really easy to enjoy. Because this is a live-action version, this Gaston isn’t quite as cartoony and larger-than-life as the animated version, which is fine, but this enables Evans and LeFou to add some interesting new dimensions to their roles.
The new Beauty and the Beast is a completely serviceable musical and family film. It’s hard to watch the story unfold and listen to the classic music and not get nostalgic. Some of the actors provide their own fun and interesting takes on these classic, iconic characters. In some areas, the vocal performances are a little bit lacking. However, this film will undoubtedly introduce a whole new generation of children to Beauty and the Beast, and that’s really not a bad thing.