It’s a tale as old as time, you know this.
If you’re here reading the review of Disney’s latest live-action* adaptation of one of their classic animated films, then you’ve got a good idea of what you’re getting into here: a story that you’re already familiar with, fleshed out into a more feature-length run time and hopefully featuring some cool new stuff or a at least a few “tweaks” on the original tale. The live-action ‘Cinderella’ managed to flesh out the handmaiden-turned-princess’ personal story to reveal more about the character, and the live-action version of ‘The Jungle Book’ really ratcheted up Mowgli’s story and the details of his jungle-born saga. So, the burning question today is: how does the retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fare?
*= live-action with a heavy-dose of CGI, of course.
All the familiar stuff is here: Belle (Emma Watson), the sorta-nerdy-and-weird-I-guess-but-still-obviously-beautiful girl that lives in the “quiet village” with her kooky-inventor father Maurice (Kevin Kline), longs for something more than her ordinary life. She certainly doesn’t want it to be her main suitor, the dashing-yet-self-involved Gaston (Luke Evans), who chases after her insistently with his sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad) in tow. Belle’s in luck: the film opens with the montage retelling of a self-absorbed local Prince (Dan Stevens) and his refusal to help an old woman who turns out to be a powerful enchantress (Hattie Morahan), so the Prince becomes cursed. He is transformed into a “hideous” Beast (he still looks pretty smooth even in Beast mode, because marketing), and his castle servants are all transformed into animated versions of household items, including a candelabra (Ewan McGregor), a clock (Ian KcKellen), a teapot and cup (Emma Thompson and Nathan Mack, respectively), a piano (Stanley Tucci), a wardrobe (Audra McDonald), and a feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), among others. When Maurice accidentally bumbles his way into the Beast’s prison, Belle offers to become the prisoner instead; as she and the Beast get to know each other, there is the potential for his curse to be broken by her falling in love with him – but Gaston is none too pleased about this, and rallies the villagers to kill the Beast out of fear. A climactic scene ends with – well, we’ll keep things spoiler-free for the handful of people that may have been living under a Disney-sized rock all these years.
I’m confident that I echo most reviewers in my praise of what the film has absolutely done right. The cast is beyond phenomenal, and such A-list talent is obviously there to put on a show – and they 100% do. A couldn’t help but giggle every time Cogsworth the Clock spoke in Sir McKellan’s voice – mostly because I was envisioning Gandalf or Magneto delivering the lines instead, but that’s my own issue – and I especially thought two particular performances stood out: Evans somehow managed to make the stereotypical beefhead Gaston much less “cartoony” than the previous, uh, cartoony version, which I greatly appreciated; and Kline brought a surprisingly perfect blend of sweet but eccentric to Maurice, a part that largely served as plot-pushing fodder in the original film.
The visuals are gorgeous; the dance numbers are robust and entertaining, and the accompanying singing is solid as well. The CGI is clearly computer-generated, but in scenes that revolve around a dancing candlestick and a galloping Beast, that’s obviously unavoidable. Our screening of the film was in IMAX 3D; while I can always recommend the larger-than-live IMAX experience, I might suggest steering clear of the 3D version of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Much like the original animated movie, there are several sweeping landscape scenes and “spinning” shots of cameras twirling around ornate ballrooms and people dancing, and for me, the 3D effects left these scenes in particular feeling very blurry and fuzzy. I didn’t particularly see any moments that were “wow, look at that!” 3D-worthy throughout the entire film.
My biggest complaint with the film is that it didn’t really feel like it added anything “new” to the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ mythos. I know what you’re going to say: how did it not add? This new version is 129 minutes long, whereas the animated film clocked in at only 84 minutes – what the heck is happening with the extra 45 minutes here? Well, we get a lot of “extended” versions of existing songs, and a few songs that found their way over from the stage-musical version of the tale… but other than a bit of fleshing out of the Beast’s familiar back-story (helpful to make him a more sympathetic character, to be sure), this is largely just the same old story done in cartoon form back in 1991. A great story, obviously, but one that necessitated a largely regurgitated remake? Audiences will likely provide enough box-office numbers to make the business end of things say “yes,” but for non-Disney fanatics, the intimate connection draw to this film may simply not be there.
So I guess, in the end, you could say that maybe there’s not “something there that wasn’t there before.”
Tony Schaab wonders who would win in an epic, Gladiator-style fight between the Grumpy Cat and the “This is Fine” Dog – an animal-heavy meme battle for the ages! A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.