Beauty and the Beast

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When her father Maurice is taken prisoner after wandering into a strange castle and picking a rose from the garden of its monstrous resident, the Beast, Belle trades herself for his freedom. Now a permanent guest in the Beast’s castle, she begins to discover not everything at this place is as it seems on the surface.

“Beauty and the Beast” is directed by Bill Condon and is a live action adaptation of Disney’s 1991 best picture nominated animated film of the same name. It stars Emma Watson as Belle, the intelligent, well read outcast of her small French village…every day like the one before. Joining her are Kevin Kline, who plays her father Maurice, deemed crazy by their little town full of little people; Luke Evans, who plays her unwanted admirer and all around self-centered jerk Gaston…who uses antlers in all of his decorating; Josh Gad, who plays Gaston’s flunky sidekick LeFou; and Dan Stevens as the titular Beast..and there may be something there that wasn’t there before between he and Belle. Also in the film primarily in voice form are Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Nathan Mack as Chip, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, and Audra MacDonald as the operatically-inclined Madame Garderobe. Unfortunately, all of the secondary characters are far more interesting than Belle and the Beast both together and apart, but this movie is not called “Lumiere and Cogsworth,” now is it?

Since this version is almost entirely an adaptation of the animated film, audience members should know what to expect going into this live action version if they have seen the original. It’s the same story with the same major plot points. There are some changes, a few new songs, a few alterations to previous songs, and a few new scenes. Disney also attempts to close some of the plot holes from the original as well. This version gives the audience a little more back story on Belle’s family through an extremely contrived plot device. This is one of the changes we did not like and it brought the film to a screeching halt. This version also gives some explanation as to why the Beast is the way he his, along with some culpability for the servants of the castle who faced punishment for the Beast’s actions at the beginning of the story. We are glad this particular change was included because many were left wondering why all of the Beast’s servants suffered the same fate he did in the animated tale.

The world these characters exist in feels a little artificial at times and harkens back to classic live action Disney musicals, though this can be seen as a positive and a negative depending on how you look at it. BigJ felt this was done on purpose, and I saw it as lazy conceptual work and bad digital implementation, especially coming off of a successful remake like “The Jungle Book” from last year. Some of the CGI is very good, however the biggest point of contention for both of us is the character of the Beast himself, especially in his face. It lacks a bit of depth, looks somewhat cartoonish at times, and isn’t as hard and jagged as the Beast from the animated version.

One of the most important parts of any movie is casting. We were thrilled when the final cast list was announced for this movie, so how did they all hold up in reality? Mostly, everyone is “fine,” and that’s the biggest compliment we can give them. Josh Gad, Luke Evans, and Kevin Kline are excellent, whereas Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are only okay, but the chemistry between the two of them is unfortunately quite lackluster. Finally, the classic songs we know and love from our childhoods are still as splendid as always. While most remain the same, some of the lyrics are changed here and there. BigJ feels these changes were necessary to organically fit into this version of the story, and while I can buy that for the most part, some of the alterations worked and some felt distracting and unnecessary. Then, we have the issue of the entirely new-to-the-movie tunes. These ones aren’t quite as memorable as the others and were apparently made by Alan Menken for the original movie, but were left on the cutting room floor. They seem to be injected for Academy consideration only.

It is hard for us to look at this piece of film independently from its source, which is something we have always tried to do in the past. Where we may see differences as flaws, some new film goers who have never seen the original may feel completely differently than we do. For us, this is mostly an entertaining film that can be fun and may make you smile if you don’t think about it too hard. It’s not as bad as we were fearing, but it is nowhere near as fantastic as we had ultimately hoped it would be.

Our rating: 3/5.

“Beauty and the Beast” is directed by Bill Condon and stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, and Ian McKellan. It is rated PG for some thematically scary elements and frightening images.

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