Movie Review: “Beauty and the Beast” (PG)

Movie Review Beauty and the BeastDisney’s animated-feature-turned-live-action-feature craze continues with director Bill Condon’s flesh-and-blood adaptation of the Mouse House’s much beloved 1991 classic, “Beauty and the Beast.” This was the very first animated feature to land a Best Picture Oscar nomination so to call “Beauty and the Beast” one of Disney’s most cherished properties would be a gross understatement.

For the few of you who aren’t familiar with this tale as old as time, “Beauty and the Beast” is a romantic fairy tale about an independent young woman named Belle who switches places with her imprisoned father Maurice, only to eventually bond with the monstrous beast who imprisoned him in the first place. During her stay, Belle also befriends the living inanimate objects that reside in the Beast’s isolated castle, and she soon learns there’s more to this misunderstood creature than meets the eye.

Condon (“Dreamgirls”) has made some additions here, but for the most part, he’s taken the animated version and simply used it as a storyboard for this live-action version. Some of this film, including a rousing and colorful rendition of “Be Our Guest” and a beautiful “Tale as Old as Time” ballroom dance number, work splendidly while other sequences, including Maurice’s wolf encounter in the woods, lack any sort of real tension.

Overall, the look of this picture is next to none: The art direction, the costume design, the cinematography, etc. Disney spent a gazillion dollars on this thing, and you will see every cent right up there on the screen. Also intact are the tunes fans have come to know and love. In fact, Condon and crew even threw in a couple of new songs, including a Beast solo number that plays as an effective companion piece to Belle’s big opener. There are other new tunes to be found as well, but they play more as condensed snippets rather than full-blown songs, so they just sort of end before you really have a chance to decide whether you truly love them or not.

Performancewise, “Beauty and the Beast” is a bit of a mixed bag. Emma Watson is adorable, charming, and talented to be sure, but is she Belle? Oddly enough, Watson feels more like Belle in real life then she does in this movie. Belle, as presented in this picture, lacks the spunky quality and all-out independent spirit that made the character so memorable in the animated feature. What’s more, while Watson can certainly carry a tune, she lacks the pipes required to take her musical numbers to soaring heights. Again, Watson isn’t bad here. She has moments of genuine emotion, but for the most part, she’s disappointingly low key.

Dan Stevens emerges as a strong Beast, and even beneath the lackluster CG facial structure, the “Downton Abbey” co-star’s charisma shines through.

Luke Evans hams it up to entertaining heights as the ever egomaniacal Gaston, and while the personality, swagger, dastardly behavior, and line delivery are there, his physicality is not. Still, Evans is terrific.

Kevin Kline is likable and warm as Maurice, but it’s a shame that this veteran actor didn’t bring a more crazy and eccentric sensibility to the role. Finally, as for the much-talked about controversy surrounding Josh Gad and his flamboyant portrayal of Gaston’s buffoonish sidekick, LeFou … well, quite frankly, it’s much ado about nothing. It’s such a small aspect of the proceedings and so seemingly innocent that all the fuss being made about it feels overblown.

Speaking of overblown, “Beauty and the Beast” might have benefited from a slightly tighter length. By simply taking a look at the running time, it’s obvious that things have been added as the animated feature clocked in at just under 90 minutes while this live action take comes in at a lengthier 2 hours and 9 minutes. Included among those additions are a Beast backstory and a look at Belle’s life as an infant. While these additions are interesting and necessary in an effort to keep this from being a straight-up remake, the extra length will most likely test the patience of little ones.

While “Beauty and the Beast” is ultimately worth seeing for the lavish production values alone, a lot of that animated magic simply gets lost in translation here. It’s clear that the weight of the 1991 animated feature casts a pretty big shadow over the proceedings. In the end, this film is pleasant enough, and no doubt fans are likely to respond to it in a big way. For my money, however, this new take on a classic is merely good rather than great, and it doesn’t work as successfully as 2016’s “The Jungle Book” or 2015’s “Cinderella.”

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