By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
Allow me to set the scene for you:
You arrive for work on Monday morning. No sooner have you taken your coat off and you’re approached by a female coworker that you typically try to avoid. Likely in her mid to late-30s, she’ll tell you – with tears in her eyes – that she left her cat home alone to go see “Beauty and the Beast” on Friday night. And, because it’s the “greatest Disney story ever told” and because it “brought the movie of her childhood to life,” she did the same thing on Saturday. And then again on Sunday.
And, while you’ll want to dismiss her ramblings as those of someone who fancies herself a cat-loving Belle patiently waiting for her very own Beast, she’s not entirely wrong – the live-action adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” pretty much brings the story the animated classic to life. With some notable additions.
Belle (Emma Watson) is beautiful, intelligent, and the most eligible bachelorette in her small village. While she seems happy on the outside, she obviously desires more culture, literature and true love than what she can find in her own backyard – despite being wooed by local hero/heartthrob Gaston (Luke Evans).
When her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), fails to return from his annual business trip to the city, Belle leaves the safety of her village behind to bring him home. She finds him held captive in a mysterious castle by the equally mysterious Beast (Dan Stevens). Concerned for her father’s safety, Belle takes his place as Beast’s prisoner.
She quickly discovers that there’s more to this castle and its inhabitants – tea sets, dishes, furniture, and a candelabra – than meets the eye – including the hairy, foul-mannered man that runs the place. Turns out, they’re all cursed and the only thing that can give them back the lives they have lost is if Beast finds true love.
If it sounds familiar, it’s for very good reason. As your coworker will repeatedly remind you next week, this “Beauty and the Beast” is very much in line with the 1991 animated version.
Where the two start to differ, however, is in the inclusion (or at least partial inclusion) of back stories of our main characters. We see how and why Belle and her father ended up in their village and why they’re so protective of each other. It’s a nice detail that adds a bit more context to Belle and Maurice.
Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing for Beast. We see how and why he is cursed, but it’s quite brief and we’re not privy to much beyond the top layer. Who are these other cursed castle dwellers? Why have they remained so loyal to the person responsible for their curse?
Generally speaking, however, the similarities outweigh the new wrinkles. And, fortunately, most of the things that made the animated version a Disney classic found their way into this version – the music, the beloved characters, the iconic ballroom dance scene.
In terms of performances, it really is a mixed bag. Watson looks the part of Belle, but any time she spoke or sang, I saw “what’s her name for the kid wizard movies.” The same can be said for Stevens’ Beast. He looks the part, but he does everything else like a regular old guy.
The best individual showing this time around is Evans as Gaston. He brings the muscle-bound lunk to life and adds a much-needed level of smugness that make him just the right amount of unlikable. I always assumed Gaston didn’t love Belle so much as he felt he deserved her, and Evans brought that out much more than an animated character ever could.
Overall, the film is visually stunning, and I imagine the 3D version is even better. But the CGI characters – Lumière, Chip, Mrs. Potts and the whole crew – are laughably bad. So bad, in fact, that it took away from every scene they were in.
And while the story remained true to its predecessor and added some additional story, it also added way too much to the run time. The original came in at just under 90 minutes, while this one cross the 2-hour mark. There’s simply not enough new content – or at least compelling new content – to warrant adding another 45+ slow-moving minutes to the story.
Add all of those things up and you’ve got a decent, but far from perfect movie. Unlike other Disney animated movies that have gone live-action – i.e. “The Jungle Book” – this one is inferior to its source material.
It’s good, and definitely worth the price of admission, but it’s definitely not “leave your cat alone three nights in a row” good. No matter what your unnamed coworker says.
★★★ of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.