Tale as old as time. Beauty and the Beast is a fairytale story that dates all the way back to the 1700s. Disney famously produced an animated film in 1991 that is inspired by this timeless story. Now Disney is retelling the story via a live-action film that will be in theaters on Friday, March 17.
Beauty and the Beast has been told in countless forms throughout the years. There was even a TV series in the 80’s (remember that one?). However, it is hard to argue that any adaptation has had a more lasting impact than the 1991 Disney animated film. It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the first animated film to receive such an honor. Remember that iconic ballroom scene? It utilized a great deal of computer generated imagery which was fairly unprecedented at the time. Of course using CGI has become a given for any animated film released nowadays. Another noteworthy element in Beauty and the Beast is the villain. Do you remember who it is? Certainly not the typical baddie that one is accustomed to seeing in a Disney film. And this was 20 years before Frozen’s non-traditional villain. We could go on but suffice it to say that the 1991 animated film is beloved by many.
Since the film borrows so much from the original animated film, the comparisons are unavoidable. This version of the film features Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame as Belle, the young farmer’s girl who “wants much more than this provincial life”. Emma is a capable actress who certainly looks the part, but she had big shoes to fill as the original Belle was voiced by Broadway veteran Paige O’Hara. The first extended musical number puts Belle front and center (in fact the song is called “Belle”). Those that remember this number fondly from the animated film will recall the moment when Belle runs out in the fields in a Sound of Music-esque scene. This is an iconic moment early on in the film that should jump off the screen, aided of course by Belle herself. Instead it falls flat, largely due to Emma’s vocal performance which can best be described as inoffensive (nothing terrible, but certainly not great either). Similarly her acting performance stays relatively grounded, even in moments where the audience yearns for a soaring emotive high as in “Belle”. One can’t help but wonder what this performance would have been like with a more seasoned actress, particularly one experienced in musical theater.
However, that is not to say that there aren’t moments where this live-action retelling does hit it out of the park. The surrounding cast includes a number of top-notch actors from Sir Ian McKellen to Ewan McGregor to Emma Thompson. In fact McKellen and McGregor are virtually unrecognizable (literally and figuratively). There was an audible gasp of surprise from the audience during the end-credits when their names came up as being associated with their respective characters. There’s probably not a better compliment to pay an actor. The real surprise of this film though comes courtesy of Josh Gad who voiced Olaf in Frozen. Gad portrays LeFou, sidekick to Gaston who pines for Belle’s affection. In both movies LeFou provides several moments of comedic relief, but in this version LeFou’s character is much more developed. It is a welcome change to the character as it provides the biggest — and perhaps the only — outright improvement over the original.
The film takes some additional liberties including adding songs not present in the original. While a necessary change to offer something refreshing, this does add to the running time of the film which totals 129 minutes. This might test the patience of younger moviegoers. However, there aren’t any adult situations that would prevent this from being rightfully described as a family film. Another notable difference is the option to view this movie in 3D. There is a singular moment in the film that really capitalizes on that 3D element. We don’t want to spoil it for you, but you may want to duck.
Beauty and the Beast may not reach the soaring heights of the original but the supporting cast offers enough to keep the film entertaining.
P.S. There is no end-credit scene here but the movie features three songs by popular recording artists: the title track reimagined by Ariana Grande & John Lennon, a new cut from Beauty and the Beast veteran Celine Dion, and the best of the bunch, “Evermore” as sung by Josh Groban.
Disclosure: We were provided a complimentary advance screening of the film to facilitate this post. All thoughts and opinions are our own.