BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Directed by Bill Condon; Written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos; Starring Dan Stevens, Emma Watson, Luke EvansEwan McGregor; Josh Gad; Gugu Mbatha-Raw; Ian McKellen; Emma Thompson; Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline; Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images; Running time 129 minutes; In wide release March 17.
The tale as old as time gets its live-action treatment as Director Bill Condon (Chicago, Dreamgirls, Twilight: Breaking Dawn) takes on Disney’s only animated feature ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. And just as they expanded their animated film by 40 minutes, so too did we expand our normal roster of reviwers, as a single reviewer could not take on something this epic.
Andy: Well, that was definitely Beauty and the Beast.
Bryan: Yeah. There weren’t any real new surprises in the material. The few that were added, though, were quite enjoyable and added quite a lot to the impact of the initial material.
Andy: I agree with that overall, but one of the things I’ve admired up to this point about the Disney live-action remakes is they always have something to add to the original film. They’re not simply retreads of the original, beloved material but instead they have some new take by changing the setting and story details, like with Pete’s Dragon. Or are trying to address problematic elements of the original, like with Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. Or go to exceptional lengths with digital wizardry, like with Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. This just felt like they shot a live action Beauty and the Beast and added in a few new things. Kind of uninspiring. But, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Bryan: Yeah. Bill Condon tread very lightly on the property. I look at it as the anti-Snyder equation. He took what people loved about it and amplified it, for the most part. The musical numbers were all there, including some new ones. And it felt right. The cosmetic changes were the right ones. It is a little bit more feminist. It is a little bit more cognizant of the times. It does have a gay person in it. My only real complaint is that in the rush to create the hyper-realism of live-action, a few of the characters lost some of the charm they had in the original film. Lumiere in specific had so much character and charm in the original, and Ewan McGregor certainly brings the charm, but how much emotion and comedy can you get out of a photo-realistic gold candlestick with muted details?
Andy: This was my biggest disappointment as well. You had McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts. The voice acting was spot on, but I wanted to see more of the actors in their characters. Compare this, again, with Favreau’s Jungle Book, and the animals in the film were so. . . human. And the household objects were relatively bland-- so "Be Our Guest" felt less like a grand showstopping number and more like. . . an underwhelming candlestick and teapot singing a song. Among the things they added, I wish they’d gone back to some of the source material like the deleted song "Human Again" and let the objects really cut loose.
Bryan: What was added, though, was beautiful. My favorite part of the film might have been the shots of old Paris from the windmills on the hill of Montmartre. It was breathtaking and the situation, that I don’t want to give too much away about, breathed a surprising mystery into the film that it needed if it was going to play it straight with the rest of the material.
Andy: Hands down, that was the best part of the film. I wanted more of those types of moments.
Bryan: One thing I found a little frustrating, but not enough to hold it against the film, was the final battle with the household. The original was so incredibly well-designed. It had to be. All of the action had to track because animators were drawing it all by hand. Every shot had to make sense, read clearly, and be, largely static. In this world of live-action, there are so many more considerations that aim to make the action life-like, but serve to muddle it. It works well enough, but it feels like more thought and design was put into play in the hand-drawn version. It’s that same reason that I felt “Be Our Guest” maybe didn’t have the amount of charm that I expected.
Andy: The original film is so beautifully paced and balanced. I think they got the idea that “more is more” with this production and so stuffed as much in as possible without asking what, if anything, they should cut, or if the added subplot (such as an extended scene of Gaston, Lefou, and Maurice searching through the woods for Belle) added anything.
Bryan: The actors in the film were, I thought, brilliant. I think Emma Watson brought a vulnerability and inquisitiveness to Belle that I admired.
Andy: She was brilliant. Belle has always been my favorite Disney princess, and she was perfect. Again, going back to updating the character to be a bit more feminist-- I wish they’d gone even further. There could have been so much more about exposing Gaston's toxic masculinity and balancing it with the Beast learnign to overcome his own. We got hints of that, but it never fully developed. But Watson was great. She was Belle, which is hard considering the expectations that come with this role.
Bryan: Kevin Kline brought a warmth and paternal spirit to the film that it needed. Dan Stevens brought everything he could to the Beast role and has, I think, taken motion capture to a new place. I almost felt like his Beast would have fit on Downton Abbey.
Andy: Again, spot on. This was Beauty and The Beast-- their movie, and so Belle and the Beast were perfect. I think the visual effects and mocap team spent all their time perfecting him that they ignored the other characters. The Beast was amazing.
Bryan: Luke Evans was really an animated Gaston come perfectly to life (and his rendition of “Kill the Beast” was incredibly rousing.) Josh Gad added a dimension to LeFou that the part desperately needed.
Andy: That mob song was one of my favorite parts of the film as well. Both of these “villains” got fleshed out in ways I didn’t think possible. They’re believable as real people and characters and not just cartoons there to provide drama and comic relief, respectively.
Bryan: And all of the secondary characters filled their roles well, even when you wonder why they’re bringing in such heavy-hitters for nothing parts–I’m looking at you, credenza played by Stanley Tucci.
Andy: And his “wife” the operatic wardrobe played by diva Audra McDonald. Absolutely fantastic. This is a great film, and my only reservations are that it doesn’t quite live up to its source material and the additions, while welcome, don’t make up for the deficiencies created elsewhere. It needed to lose about a half hour and pick up its pace a bit, but kids and adults alike are going to love this. It delivered on the payoff moment for me, which is Belle singing “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. . . “ It worked, as did most of the film. Amazing effects and production design loses some of its lustre with some less-spectacular character design. But it’s by no means a bad film, and is a welcome addition to the collection of Disney’s live action remakes. 7.5 out of 10
Bryan: This film was charming. It charmed me. It made me cry. Repeatedly. Yes, it capitalized on all of my previous feelings of the original film, but it worked. Well. Condon did a great job and I’m giving this an 8 out of 10.