Friday, March 17, 2017

Emma Watson and the Beast

Disney's new Beauty and the Beast isn't so much an adaptation of their 1991 animated film as a live-action reproduction of the original. The new film follows the pattern so closely that when it diverges at any point something feels a bit off. In a loving remake, director Bill Condon and his team bring the magic of the original back to the big screen in a way which should please fans.

After the brief interlude which sets up the film's plot involving the curse, we're reintroduced to Belle (Emma Watson) and the small French town in which the modern woman sticks out like a sore thumb. Watson's casting is pure genius. The actress shines, delivering everything the role calls and more (including a singing performance far more impressive than another Emma who just took home an Academy Award). Effortlessly, she brings Belle to life.

As in the first movie, Belle's father (Kevin Kline) is held captive by the Beast (Dan Stevens). One of the changes to the film is to flesh out Belle and Maurice's relationship a bit more, and add in some backstory to fill in for Belle's missing mother.

Choosing to take her father's place in the enchanted castle, Belle begins to warm to the Beast and his odd assortment of servants who have all been transformed into various furniture by an enchantress' (Hattie Morahan) magic. Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Emma Thompson are cast in the roles of walking and talking candelabras, clocks, feather dusters, and tea pots. While none outshine the original voice actors, each is serviceable in their roles, although Thompson can't quite find the magic which Angela Lansbury delivered when it comes time to sing the title song.

Nearly as much fun as Waston's Belle, the casting of Luke Evans and Josh Gad as the film's self-obsessed villain Gaston and his toady LeFou prove to be great comic relief. The much-discussed homosexual overtones of their relationship, or more accurately what LeFou would like their relationship to be, aren't any stronger than the animated version and certainly provide no unwanted distraction. My only complaint about Evans' performance is in his lack of chest hair which necessitates the bizarre rewriting to remove the most famous line of the character's trademark song.

Because so much effort is taken for the film to meticulously recreate the the animated Beauty and the Beast it becomes impossible for the film to live up, or surpass, Disney's first attempt to tell the tale. Some of the extra content works well, while other pieces (such as an extended sequence involving a magic book) feel awkward and less developed than they should be. And some of the larger sequences, such as the siege on the castle, don't have quite the same visual impact they did when animated.

That said, the film does take a moment to explain how people forgot a kingdom in their back yard, and I will give credit to whoever chose to give Belle her last line of the film which is the perfect cherry on top for all of us that ever gave a second thought to her soul mate's charisma. One last note, although I saw the film in 3D there was little (if any) added value it gave to the story. While I'd definitely recommend the film to fans of the original, Watson's Belle is worth the ticket price alone, you can probably save a couple bucks and stick with 2D.

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