Disney’s third live action remake continues their quest to update the beloved cartoons for modern audiences. Oscar winner Bill Condon (“Chicago,” “The Twilight Saga”) returns to the world of the musical, introducing new songs in the fairy tale and more information on the characters.
Chocked full of award winning actors Condon has worked with in the past, “Beauty and the Beast” spares no expense on visual effects and production design. Fans of the 1991 animated film will spot their favorite scenes brought to life and feel the pull of nostalgia as Hermione from the Harry Potter series brings Belle to life. Certain characters have been tweaked to be more socially inclusive, but the core theme of a beautiful, healthy, intelligent young woman unhappy because she doesn’t have a prince charming, remains intact.
A young woman living in a small hilltop town in France, works with her widowed father Maurice (Kline) on his various tinker-toys, in between reading books and doing daily chores. Belle (Watson) is unsatisfied with the life she has been given. “There must be more than this provincial life,” she yells from the foothills. Despite the pursuit of local war hero Gaston (Evans), gleefully narcissistic about his appearance, Belle wants more. She gets her wish, becoming prisoner to a Beast (Stevens) living in a forgotten, cursed castle full of riches. Another narcissist, the former prince, turned beastly for his lack of compassion, must woo the small-town girl to break the curse and regain his humanity. Belle is swept up by opulence, servants and an expansive library, never questioning the talking inanimate objects, and willing to do anything to make this new life her own.
Emma Watson’s determination and vocal lessons produce impressive range from the actress who got her start on the set of Harry Potter at age 10. Watson has struggled to find her place in cinema following the conclusion of the Potter series in 2011. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012) was her only triumph amongst a slew of movie failures in various genres. Unlike “The Jungle Book” and “Cinderella” remakes, Disney broke their tradition of casting an unknown in the iconic lead role. Beyond her vocal abilities, Watson doesn’t add much depth to Belle despite some new scenes giving more background to the character. Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos reintroduce details abandoned from the original story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, but they follow the Oscar nominated animated version almost exactly.
The musical number by Evans (“The Hobbit”) and Gad (“The Wedding Ringer”) “Gaston” is one of the most improved sequences, well-choreographed because it’s completely live action without visual effects aid. Compared with the dizzying and nearly entirely computer generated “Be Our Guest” that will leave you needing Excedrin. One of the new songs, “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” performed over the end credits by Celine Dion, will add to the films perceived award nominations, including I suspect production design and costumes. While Condon reportedly fought to keep the visual effects to a minimum, even with Beast’s face, there are many full sequences of green screen and no humans. Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor’s French accents are so peculiar it’s hard to recognize their emblematic voices. For a film with a running time of 129 minutes, the songs eat up much of the screen time, as Belle spends very little time in the town before she arrives at the castle. This version of the classic will please Disney fans and those looking to be pacified for two hours.
Final Thought — Glorious production value outshines everything else in the dizzying live action modern update.