Beauty and the Beast, the 1991 animated version, is Disney’s crowning achievement. My guess the money made by remaking the live action versions of Cinderella and The Jungle Book twisted a few arms. While not as successful as those two films, Beauty and the Beast is a solid yet bloated film.
The animated classic clocked in at about 95 min. Lean and to the point. This beast (no pun intended) is about two hours and it feels it. Not that there is anything really wrong with the picture aside from unnecessary excess, the film is an almost identical remake of the earlier version. The length comes from adding backstories, new characters and remarkably, a few bland new songs. A shame because there is much to admire.
Director Bill Condon knows musicals. He adapted Chicago for the screen, directed Dreamgirls and produced the best Oscar Telecast in the last 20 years. Bill Condon has assembled a mighty good crew and spent the millions needed to put on this show wisely. The film is gorgeous. From the set design to the cinematography and costumes, the film reminds me of a theme park come to life. He also assembled a talented cast to bring this whole enterprise to it’s feet. On the human side of things is Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame as the no nonsense, book loving Belle, who yearns for more out life in her small provincial town. She avoids the advances of the much admired town hero, Gaston ( a perfect Luke Evans). His machismo is no match for her but is doted on by the townsfolk and loyal sidekick Lefou (a hammy to perfection Josh Gad). In the non human roles we have Dan Stevens, under layers of digital makeup , as Beast and he gives a wonderful, heartbreaking performance, as do all of the enchanted household characters, Lumiere the Candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the Clock (Ian McKellan) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson).
And now for the negative. The music from Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice holds up well and is toe tappingly addictive until the new songs kick in. There are three new ballads that don’t resonate. The worst being the tune the Beast sings as he figures out that he’s in love (Evermore). It’s a ponderous 5 minute chunk of time that could have been cut. The same can be said of giving screen time to new and expanded characters like Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) and Madam Gardarobe (Audra McDonald). They are good but in the end, don’t add much to anything. And finally and the most upsetting thing is the Beast himself. Like I said, the performance is great but the CGI is not seamless. In dark shadow he looks fine but in harsh light, he looks, well, like a computer effect and less like a real character.
But in the end, if you can get passed the negative, you will have a good time. I did. I just wish it was as spectacular as the 1991 masterpiece.