STARRING: EMMA WATSON; DAN STEVENS; LUKE EVANS; EWAN MCGREGOR
DIRECTED BY: BILL CONDON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Truth be told, the 1991 Disney animated version of Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I saw on a “date”. I put the word date in quotations for two reasons: I was 8 years old…and my mother was sitting in the row behind me and Molly Oliver. That’s a little window into my romantic boyhood charm, but it also tells you that I remember the first time I saw the classic “Tale as old as time” brought to the screen. Now, 24 years later, we get the live-action version, that uses creepy CGI to create the beast, music that will still make your heart flutter, and fails to surpass the original. Beauty and the Beast is a fancy affair, but delivers too little for me to fall in love with.
Bill Condon (Chicago) brings the tale to life, in a small French town, with bakers carrying bread and women washing clothes, while all the townspeople sing about that peculiar girl Belle (Emma Watson). The scenes are alive, vibrant, with beautiful costumes, while set-pieces sit against beautiful backdrops, with a near perfect cast out in front. Gaston (Luke Evans) admires himself in mirrors, while his trusty sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad) views him with doe eyes from afar. The brute hopes to win the heart of Belle, but when her father- Maurice (Kevin Kline) goes missing, her focus turns to saving him from The Beast (Dan Stevens).
There are plenty of chords struck that will tickle the nostalgia bones of fans. What works for Beauty and the Beast are the sprinkles of magic, reminding us of our childhood, including the spectacular songs from Alan Menken that audiences will hum out the door. That joy, however, rarely lingers. There is something wrong about this version of Beauty and the Beast. I found much of the imagery to be charming, but writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos seem to care little about the emotions behind to things that matter. When Belle sings the reprise of the opening number, her climb up a hill will recall images of Julie Andrews in Sound of Music, but Condon and company, seem too eager to move on to the next scene.
What works for this Beauty and the Beast is the extravagance of it all. The entire production of “Be our Guest” pops with color and energy, including a solid rendition from Ewan McGregor as Lumiere. The castle itself is a beautiful labyrinth of corridors and stairwells. The reveal of the Beasts enormous book collection brings joy to Belle’s face, but this is also the only moment where Watson shows actual emotions. When the title song (sung twinkly by Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts.) and ballroom dance sequence occurs, it’s lovely, but fades faster than a sun set. Throughout, there continues to be a disjointedness with the story, often eager to explain storylines we didn’t think hard about (Belle’s mother’s backstory, The Beast’s fractured family) nor really need.
Eventually, the love between Belle and the bull horned Beast begins to grow, which Condon handles very nicely. For all the ridiculous complaints about Le Fou’s attraction to Gaston, it’s awkward to see a woman fall in love with a beast-thing. Condon makes it gentle and kind. That is, when he’s actually showing the beast. I felt zero presence from both Watson and Stevens. The Harry Potter stars portrayal is quite muted. She’s a lovely sight, always adorable, but never conflicted with her Stockholm syndrome. Oddly enough, the real star of this film is Luke Evans as Gaston. His look and singing chops are impressive, like I was, you may be wondering why we are supposed to hate this guy?
Overall, Beauty and the Beast is fine. It hits almost every beat of the original animated film, which is not a bad thing, it will make fans of the Disney version smile and new fans will embrace. It’s just the old tale that you should spend your time with.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady