By Jim Tortolano
A key line in both the original animated and the current live action version of “Beauty and the Beast” is “there’s something there that wasn’t there before.”
The 1991 film was a blockbuster and is considered one of the best of all the Disney animated films. This version more than holds its ground, and considering its blend of wondrous CGI work and an outstanding performance by Emma Watson in the leading role of Belle, may indeed become the defining version of this story about looking below the surface.
For those of us familiar with the ’91 version (and who over the age of 35 isn’t?), there are a few nips and tucks taken with the plot, a welcome back-story added, and a couple of new songs included. All of those changes help move the tale along, and although the film is nearly a half-hour longer than the earlier “Beast,” the movie never feels bloated.
Watson, best known for her roles in the “Harry Potter” films, works a different kind of magic here. She sings her own songs, and although she’s not stunningly beautiful or operatically tuneful, she embodies the role of the brainy, pretty girl stuck in a small provincial town in France. She longs for something more exciting, and as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
Dan Stevens is in perhaps the more problematic role of The Beast, his performance filtered in part through the lens of heavy make-up, CGI and looping. Yet he manages to show some nuance, not easy for an actor portraying what looks like the mythical love child of a bison and a goat.
Luke Evans’ Gaston comes close to embodying the larger-than-life braggart and woo-er of Belle, but even more eye-catching is the work of Josh Gad as LaFou, his sycophantic pal who might long to be more than just a friend to Gaston. That latter reference is touched on only very lightly and is played with wry humor.
The whole cast, including Kevin Kline as Belle’s father Maurice, is fine. The music is brilliant, as it was in the original. The lyrics of Howard Ashman and the compositions of Alan Menken get new life here.
Disney gave director Bill Condon $160 million to work with on this film and it will be a surprise to all if it doesn’t bring in close to a billion dollars once all the box office income is totaled up. So “the something more” here means that “Beauty” will be rewarding not just artistically but also financially.
“Beauty and the Beast” is rated PG for some action, violence and scary images.
Categories: Arts & Leisure