Beauty and the Beast

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Beauty and the Beast
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

A vain young prince throws a gala party. An old crone knocks on the door, seeking refuge and offers a beautiful rose for admission. He taunts the “gift” and throws her out, but not before she transforms into an enchanted creature who curses the prince, changing him into a hideous monster. The only thing that will break the spell is true love in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Robin:
An aging inventor and merchant, Maurice (Kevin Klein), lost in the woods on a stormy night, comes upon an enchanted castle. He seeks refuge there and is provided for by his unseen host. When leaving, he sees a perfect rose in the host’s garden, the only thing his daughter, Belle (Emma Watson), asked for. He takes the flower only to have a huge beast attack and throw him in a dungeon. His crime: stealing. It is up to Belle to free her father and soothe the savage beast.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a lavishly wrought extravaganza that has all, and more, of the elements of the 1991 Disney animated classic – the songs (and a few new ones), fantastical sets, flashy special effects, big-time production values and a beloved story. But, I have to say, I was often bored and distracted while slogging through the faithful but uninspired live action remake. I still find myself humming “Be My Guest” and “Gaston” but none of the new songs made any impression on me.

The CG is big budget but there are many times when the effects were obviously effects and I do not think that should happen, especially from Disney. Whereas the original musical, though an animation (and one of the early films to use CG, though limited), was organic and greater than its parts, the new version feels artificial and manufactured, even forced.

Emma Watson is fine as the beautiful, plucky and smart heroine, Belle, and gives a yeoman’s effort with the singing. Dan Stevens, as the voice of the Beast – the CGI is so extensive with the character that the actor got lost in the technology – is a shadow of the superlative combination of animation and voice in the original. (Robbie Benson, of all people, did the voice of Beast, even the roars.)

Luke Evans has the good looks to pull off the buffoonish and cowardly but handsome Gaston. Josh Gad, as his sidekick, Le Fou, is the first outwardly gay character in Disney animation features, which is getting its share of attention, good or bad. The voices of all the magical household appliances fill the bill well enough, too, but none stand out as they did in the original. (Jerry Orbach as Lumiere, the candelabra, and David Ogden Stiers, as Cogsworth, the clock make for one of animation’s best comedy teams.)

I keep making comparison to the “original Beauty and the Beast.” But, the story has been around, in various incarnations, since the 15th Century, including he most wonderful telling of the fairy tale, on the big screen. That 1946 Jean Cocteau version that is still magical today and I highly recommend it. Following close on its heels is the Disney ’91 version. Way back down the line is the latest rendition, despite the obvious big budget. I give it a C+.

Laura:
In 18th century France, avid reader Belle (Emma Watson) confounds the villagers of Villeneuve and its most eligible bachelor, Gaston (Luke Evans, "Dracula Untold"), but is beloved by her widowed music box maker father Maurice (Kevin Kline).  When he sets off to town, she requests what she always does, a single rose.  But Maurice is forced off his path and finds himself in an enchanted castle. Fleeing, he picks a rose, but the castle's furious owner imprisons him for his thievery.  Finding her father's horse without its rider, Belle tracks him down and takes his place, but is surprised to be treated like a princess by talking household items.  They hope to lift their master's curse by pairing "Beauty and the Beast."

After Kenneth Branaugh's surprising rejuvenation of "Cinderella" and Jon Favreau's masterful retelling of "The Jungle Book," Bill Condon's ("Dreamgirls," "Mr. Holmes") live action remake of the 1991 Disney animation, the first to be Best Picture nominated, is a crashing disappointment.  With musical numbers cranked up to ear-splitting levels, glaring continuity errors and a CGI-laden beast (Dan Stevens, FX's 'Legion') and locales, this "Beauty and the Beast" is seriously lacking in the magic of its animated predecessor.

The 'tale as old as time' is essentially a shot for shot remake of the animation, padded out here and there to little advantage (Belle's invented a washing machine, Gaston is a war hero, Belle learns how she lost her mother).  The songs and score, too, remain the same with Alan Menken's Oscar winning work joined by three new songs from him and lyricist Tim Rice.  It's the old ones you'll remember, one of the best aspects of the new film, along with the reinvention of candelabra Lumière (Ewan McGregor), but even he cannot escape the assault that is this film's evocation of 'Be Our Guest.' A new prologue, which charts how and why the Prince was cursed to begin with, seems to have confused 18th century France with 'It's a Small World' in a heavy  handed sop to diversity.  (The controversy around Josh Gad's ("Frozen's" Olaf) gay take on LeFou, on the other hand, is a tempest in a teapot.)

For those unfamiliar with the story, a Prince is put under a spell when he refuses entry to his glittery domain to an old hag who is actually an enchantress (Hattie Morahan, "Mr. Holmes"). Her proffered gift of a red rose is placed under a bell jar and the Prince will remain a beast until he can love someone and have his love returned by the time its last petal drops. His household staff are turned into inanimate objects.  When Gaston, who wishes to marry Belle, discovers she's imprisoned, he sets off with a mob of villagers to slay the beast, who has in fact managed to win Belle's affection.

Jon Favreau made a live action "Jungle Book" with one human actor entirely surrounded by CGI and most wouldn't known they were not looking at real wilderness.  Here Condon has elaborate sets, yet everything outdoors looks artificial.  Belle has an early 'Sound of Music' moment, but those hills don't look alive.  The film's most egregious stumble is the Beast himself, whose eyes never convince and whose movements aren't fluid.  Jean Cocteau's miraculous 1946 French version put Jean Marais in costume and makeup to fabulous effect - why not here?  The faithfulness to the animation's big ballroom scene also backfires with whiplash inducing camera moves (cinematography by "Dreamgirls'" Tobias Schliessler) and a ball gown (costume by "Pan's" Jacqueline Durran) that doesn't measure up to "Cinderella's."

Emma Watson is a serviceable Belle, but she's missing that extra spark that would make her heroine truly memorable.  Stevens falls into this tale's inevitable trap of a Prince too ordinary compared to the beast we fall in love with (his vocal performance is fine).  This lackluster duo is upstaged by Evans and Gad, whose comic routine is far more entertaining, as is the vocal work of McGregor and Ian McKellen as mantel clock Cogsworth.  Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip are now actual china, their features 'hand-painted' animation, "Belle's" Gugu Mbatha-Raw voicing the peacock feather duster Lumiere lusts for.  Two new characters, wardrobe Madame Garderobe (six time Tony winner Audra McDonald) and harpsichord Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) are awkward additions.

(IMAX theater presentations open up the top and bottom of the screen, changing the film's 2.35:1 aspect ration to 1.90:1, but no IMAX cameras were used to shoot the film.)

Grade:  C
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