Movie: "Beauty and the Beast"Director: Bill Condon
Running Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
"Beauty and the Beast" is directed by Bill Condon and is a live action adaption 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, who is 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 the candlestick; Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock; Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts the teapot; Nathan Mack as Chip the teacup; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette the feather duster; Stanley Tucci as the Maestro Cadenza; and Audra MacDonald as the operatically-inclined Madame Garderobe. Unfortunately, all of the secondary character 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 a straight adaptation of the animated film, audience members should know what to expect going into this live action version. 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 animated "Beauty and the Beast." ***POTENTIAL SPOILER*** It gives the audience a little more back story on Belle's mother 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 a purposeful change, and I saw this 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. Dan Stevens has been a favorite of ours since his "Downton Abbey" days, we love Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and Ian McKellen, and thought Josh Gad would be the perfect LeFou. So, how did they all hold up in reality? Mostly, everyone is "fine," and that's the biggest compliment we can give them. Emma Watson is alright as Belle, though I thought she was a little stiff at times. BigJ doesn't think anyone in the movie is auto-tuned while they are singing, and I think he is absolutely, positively crazy. Dan Stevens is a good, bitter Beast apart from his sub-par digital makeover. Their portrayals might be decent, but the chemistry between the two of them is unfortunately quite lackluster. Luke Evans kills it as Gaston, and though not as physically imposing as the Gaston from the original, what he lacks in girth he makes up for with a massive amount of cocky, self-loving attitude. Josh Gad does one thing really, really well and always does that one thing. He's the lovable, sing-songy goofball sidekick with a lot of breathy sarcastic wit. We think he does a great job as LeFou, and people need to get the hell over any other changes to this version of his character. Kevin Kline is surprisingly excellent as Belle's tinkerer father Maurice and Ian McKellen is flawless in everything and everything about his portrayal of Cogsworth is perfection.
The classic songs we know and love from our childhoods are still as great 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 were 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, two movie lovers who grew up memorizing and idolizing the animated feature, 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. In a perfect world, we would like to think most parents show their children the original Disney classic because it is such a timeless piece of cinema regardless of the fact that it is animated. In the long run, the true test will be how the current generation, the ones who grow up with this version of "Beauty and the Beast" as their primary version, will feel about it throughout their lifetime, and if it will have the same impact as the animated version did for us throughout our decades of being on this planet. For us, this is mostly 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.
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My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~70%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
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