For those not it the know, Missus Joshua and I have a three month daughter at home. She is our first child, so needless to say we don't get out much. But when Disney announced they were making a live action version of her favorite Disney animated film, you can bet your ass she was going to move heaven and earth to make sure we were there. You can also bet your sweet ass I'm going to write about it! Beauty and the Beast represents the latest in Disney's seemingly unending desire to turn all of their animated properties into live action films. The results of these efforts have been mixed at best, with The Jungle Book residing on the high end and 2015's Cinderella on the low end.
Based on the 1991 animated classic from Disney's "Golden Age" of my youth (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King in a four year period!), the live action version also attempts to incorporate some of the original fairy tale source material by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villaneuve, more on that later. The cast includes Hermione Granger, er, Emma Watson as Belle, Luke Evans as Gaston, Kevin Klein as Belle's father, Maurice, and professional comic relief sidekick Josh Gad as LeFou. Dan Stevens plays both the human version of the Beast and his digitally rendered counterpart. The new update was directed by Bill Condon, who directed the wonderful Gods and Monsters, but also the dreadful last two entries in the already awful Twilight series.
Fans of the 1991 animated version of the film will be happy to know that the live action version of Beauty and the Beast is certainly the best of the recent Disney adaptations. Everything you loved about the original is there in theory. The grand musical numbers. The comedy. The dazzling visuals. The film share many scenes shot for shot with it's animated predecessor. By shot for shot I mean literally Gus Van Zant's Psycho "shot for shot." It's akin to purchasing a new pair of jeans that are the exact cut of your broken in pair. The fit is right. Everything feels the same - but there is something just a little off.
Before we get into nitpicking (oh yes! there will be nitpicking!) the annoying shortcomings of the film, let's start with what works. First and foremost, the film is grand. It always amazes me how far digital technology has come. There used to be a time when animation was the only way to capture many of the more grandiose ideas that come from the human mind. With the passage of time and revolution of technology, anything is now possible with a live action film. The Beasts castle feels real. It's grand. It's magnificent. Belle's village feels like it's supposed to. It's a lived in, but quaint French village. There is far more depth to the visuals than anything the '91 version could have even attempted. Visually, the film is spectacular. It's certainly the most magnificent ocular experience of the year.
The performances, for the most part are spot on as well. Evans, Gad, and especially Ewan McGregor as Lumiere are 100 percent committed. They push everything to the edge without becoming caricatures themselves. They are fun. They bounce. The films best moments are when they are on the screen. Which brings us the biggest issue with Beauty and the Beast - Emma Watson. While Dan Stevens performance is good, he's clearly hampered by the Chewbacca-esque digital rendering. Watson on the other hand can't fall back on technological excuses. While Evans and Gad are having the time of their lives, Watson looks like she just sucked on a lemon. Of all of director Bill Condon's films, she must have studied the Twilight films and in particular Kristen Stewart's annoyed, stone faced, performance as inspiration. When she does smile it seems forced and joyless. The other prevailing issue with Watson's Belle as opposed to the animated version is that, and god is this going to come off misogynistic, but I'm not a cunning enough linguist to make it sound more elegant, Watson's Belle is just not that attractive. She's rather dour and boring. Gaston is so enthralled with Belle becasue she is by far the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. Watson's Belle is very plain. Even as "yellow dress Belle" she comes off as more of a cos-play contestant than the most beautiful woman anyone's ever seen. The look and the performance of the character just don't ring true to the 1991 version like the other performances.
The other thing that most will notice is that while the 1991 version of the film clocks in at a brisk 84 minutes, the live action version of the film is a bit more of a chore at over 2 hours long. Much of this time is made up with small changes, enhancements of minor characters etc. and some main character backstory (that creates some shades of grey for characters motivations that didn't exist in the 91 version). However, one of the most noticeable changes comes directly from the fairy tale source material. Where as the witch who curses the Beast disappears after the prologue in the animated classic. she plays a much more prominent role here. Her role, along with much of the rest of the Beauty and the Beast expanded universe presented in the film feels unnecessary. Let's face it, the 90 minute version of the film was pretty perfect. All adding things to the film does create shadows and questions where none existed before. As part of the new Beauty and the Beast, there are at least 3 new songs added to the already stellar soundtrack. The only one of note is the rock opera inspired number Belted out by the Beast to kick off the films third act.
While the new live action version of Beauty and the Beast is not as good as the classic 1991 version (don't forget that version was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture) it still has a charm all its own. Visually the film is stunning. There some great performances, particularly from Evans and McGregor. There is more humor in this version than the earlier version. Everything you loved about the original is here in hyper-drive. While the running time has been padded out with some extraneous nonsense, at its heart the film is the same ahem, beast, if you will as its predecessor with its only real disappointment being the muted performance of Watson.
**** 1/4 stars out of *****
That's it for me. As always thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."