If you went to the multiplex this week you had the choice of “Beauty and the Beast” and not “Beauty and the Beast.” At the Port Charlotte cinema last weekend, there were 10 showings that day, not including the 3-D shows. Think about that for a minute.
Disney’s live action version of its 1991 animated classic cost $160 million, making it the most expensive musical of all time. However, by the time you read this, there’s a good chance that “Beauty and the Beast” (PG) will have made one billion dollars worldwide. That’s a lot of money for a movie without a Marvel character or Kevin Hart.
The good news is that “Beauty and the Beast” is a pretty great movie. It’s charming and romantic and stunning to look at. And those songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman we love are all there, and then some.
The “tale as old as time” hasn’t changed. Beautiful Belle (Emma Watson) loves her books and her father Maurice (Kevin Kline), but not so much her boring village and the boorish Gaston (Luke Evans) who wants to marry her.
Meanwhile back at the castle we meet a vain and callous prince (Dan Stevens from “Downton Abbey”), who angers the wrong enchantress, who turns him into a beast until he finds true love. For good measure she also turns all his servants into household objects, which I feel is totally unfair since they didn’t do anything. Maurice has the bad luck to end up at the castle and gets captured by the Beast (also Dan Stevens, but way hairier). Belle finds her way to him and brokers a deal with the Beast so her father can go free.
Sensing that Belle could be the one to break the spell, and with time running out, Lumière, the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts the teapot (Emma Thompson), and other objects, do their best to get these two kids together. They don’t have to work very hard and soon Belle has the run of the castle.
However, Gaston still wants Belle for his bride. Before you can say, “She’s way too good for you“, he and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad providing the film’s comic relief) and an army of angry villagers prepare to storm the palace, I’m guessing because there’s nothing else to do.
Director Bill Condon keeps things moving, although the film is slightly too long. “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” are still showstoppers and many of the scenes are downright dazzling. Watson’s Belle is feisty, smart and sweet and does her songs justice. Stevens is just fine under all that fur but his Beast isn’t particularly scary, he’s just kind of cranky. I’m not sure if it’s the makeup or the voice, or maybe that I know the story so well, but he seemed more like a pussycat then a beast.
Some might find Gad’s turn as the overly-devoted LeFou distracting, but I enjoyed his energy and reliable comic relief. And yes, LeFou is gay, but it’s more cute than controversial. If the lyrics to “Gaston” weren’t burned in my brain from my daughter’s constant viewing of the movie, I might have missed some of the more clever lines. I’m thinking that was more because of the low volume level at the theater than a problem with the movie. Has anyone else noticed that movies just aren’t loud enough sometimes?
I have a couple of issues with “Beauty and the Beast.” We don’t get to see enough of the household staff before their transformation, to care that much about their fate. I would have liked to known that I was listening to Ian McKellen instead of telling myself “I know that voice.” Who is that?” “Derek Jacobi?” for 95 minutes. Also, while the new songs were OK, I’ve already forgotten them already, and I don’t think the movie really needed them.
There are plenty of people who will complain that this version isn’t as good as the animated film or that we didn’t need a new “Beauty and the Beast.” But there are about one billion reasons that doesn’t matter. Live action versions of “Mulan,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” are already in the works. News flash! Disney loves money. I just hope that these movies are as impressive and enjoyable as “Beauty and the Beast.”
Beauty and the Beast