Finally, the moment has come. Arguably, the most anticipated Disney live action movie of all time has been released to the public. Like many, I also made advance reservations for tickets, and waited in an extraordinarily long line just to get inside. With bated breath, I waited for the previews to end so I could get sucked into an enchanted tale. Two hours later… what was the verdict? Ok, let’s bring on the possible outrage. I’d give the film a 50% rating. This doesn’t mean I hated the product. I simply loved half of the film’s elements. The other half…. I realize that I’m asking for lots of “dislikes”, so allow me to talk about the film’s shining moments first. Because they do exist.
The reimagined setting of Beauty and the Beast occasionally traipses into screen saver territory, but overall, the visuals are breathtaking. The twist on all of the enchanted objects is creative (especially the Wardrobe’s face that resembles a mini stage). The CGI Beast is (dare I say it?) handsome, and the costumes are lush across the board. The instrumental score is majestic, and melodies from the musical were inserted at the most opportune moments.
As far as the casting goes, most of the choices were absolutely perfect. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen make for an entertaining Lumière/Cogsworth duo (despite McGregor’s embarrassing French accent). Luke Evans is a deliciously vain Gaston (with strong vocals to match), and Josh Gad’s LeFou is as on point as you would expect. Lastly, Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts is warm-hearted and her performance of the title song is the only version in existence that can even compare to Angela Lansbury’s.
So, where did this film miss the mark? Lots of other places…
First, let’s look at some of the other characters. As soon as the casting choice was announced, the love for Emma Watson’s Belle was overwhelming. Now, I am a giant fan of Watson’s movies, but I still found her casting in this role to be … trendy. She is undeniably lovely and a first-class actress, but her one-dimensional vocals were still on par with a junior level musical. Also, her usual ability to connect with fellow costars was…. absent. In fact, Watson’s detachment didn’t evaporate until she had to wail over the Beast’s injured body (not exactly conducive for romantic chemistry). Furthermore, I found her heightened strong-heroine persona to be disingenuous. I appreciate that the director was in love with Belle’s girl-power side, but any normal person would’ve had some sense of distress when imprisoned in a castle with a monster. Was I really expected to believe that a young woman from the boonies would be completely unfazed by these circumstances? Watson’s Belle lacked the vulnerability that made the animated version so very real.
On a less passionate note, Kevin Kline’s Maurice of one demeanor was almost comical. Seriously. I think that the townsfolk would’ve had to light him on fire to elicit any real type of reaction from him.
Secondly, considering that the film ran almost 40 minutes longer than the cartoon, there was an excessive amount of extra, bloated scenes. I didn’t care for any of the backstory, or the fact that Belle was actually from pre-revolutionary, plague-ridden Paris. (Although I know the tale is French, I’d prefer that these characters stay tucked away in ambiguous fairytale land.) Speaking of the revolution, though – didn’t the grimy setting make anyone worry that Belle and her prince would eventually be led to a guillotine-post happy ending? Just me?
Lastly, the remaining element I couldn’t get on board with, was the music (the actual songs). I’m certainly not talking about any of the pieces from the 1991 classic, but all of the new songs are bland and 110% forgettable. (The Beast’s solo number “Evermore” has promise, but the song is placed at such an ill-sitting point in the story. The only thing that would’ve made this more inappropriate would’ve been a tap dance break.) When the musical version has so many original songs that are exquisite, I don’t understand why these were cast aside in favor of lackluster pieces. I expected more of you, Menken.
That all being said, do I still recommend seeing it? Yes. The elements that work, really work, and the movie overall is gorgeous enough to warrant at least one big-screen viewing. After all of the anticipation, I wish that I had fallen undeniably in love, but I couldn’t help being captivated on some level despite the shortcomings.
A critic I deeply respect summed up my feelings best with the following statement- “If you were at all on the fence before seeing the movie, the film itself won’t completely win you over. Despite this, the movie isn’t entirely bad. It just isn’t a home run.”
So, I’d encourage everyone to go and make their own conclusions. If you find the experience less than magical, you can always pick up the animated masterpiece.