'Beauty and the Beast' remake's magical moments fail to match 1991 version’s charm
March 17, 2017 12:00 AM
Emma Watson stars as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic.
By Maria Sciullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Viewers must step inside the gates of the enchanted castle and decide how they feel about a remake that occasionally glows with magic yet falls short of being magical.
It’s a lavish and entertaining enough retelling of the “tale as old as time.” A snotty young prince (Dan Stevens) heartlessly turns away a beggar woman seeking shelter. She is, in fact, an enchantress, and she transforms him into a shaggy beast. The rest of the court become household objects. A magic rose is left behind, and if the Beast can learn to love and be loved in return before it dies — poof! — the spell will be broken.
In a nearby village, a clever young woman, Belle (Emma Watson), yearns for adventure “in the great wide somewhere.”
Rating: PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.
Belle is pursued by the manly Gaston (Luke Evans). Carnegie Mellon University grad Josh Gad plays Gaston’s fawning lackey, LeFou, to winning effect. Here LeFou is more a voice of reason, and, in a quiet homage to composer Howard Ashman, attracted to men. Mr. Ashman died of AIDS less than a year before the original film’s release. His companion, William Lauch, accepted the Oscar on his behalf in an era when same-sex unions were rarely mentioned on television.
When Belle’s father (Kevin Kline) accidentally stumbles into the Beast’s lair one dark night, she rushes to take his place as a prisoner. Eventually she and the Beast become friends, but can she love him?
There’s no denying the power of Mr. Ashman and Alan Menken’s clever, sweeping songs. Three were nominated for Oscars in 1992, with “Beauty and the Beast” besting “Be Our Guest” and “Belle.” Just as worthy a tune is “Gaston,” a beer hall ode featuring Mr. Evans (who has a musical theater background and by far the best voice on display) that includes the classic line, “I use antlers in all of my decorating!”
Somehow, “Be Our Guest” manages to be so overstuffed and over-CGI’d, it “out-Busbys” Busby Berkeley, with plates, cutlery and napkins zooming about in quick cuts. Rather than magical, the situation is more in need of air-traffic control.
Another CGI disappointment is the Beast’s countenance. Mr. Stevens’ bright eyes remain, but the face is muddy and not as expressive as those usually created through advanced motion-capture design. Tech upgrades to Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) suffer similarly. Shiny little eyes set in shiny metallic faces are hard to read and strip away any signs of humanity.
Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky, an Upper St. Clair native who wrote and directed the wonderful “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”), as well as director Bill Condon, embroider Linda Woolverton’s original Disney version with varying success.
A key story reveals that when the young prince’s mother died, his father groomed him to be a selfish, uncaring fop. In a telling moment, Mrs. Potts laments that the palace staff stood by and did nothing.
This finally explains why they are so devoted to a narcissist whose arrogance got them cursed in the first place.
Visually, Mr. Condon (“Dreamgirls”) knows his way around a musical, and no doubt this opulent “Beauty and the Beast” will be a big box-office hit. However, we have reached a point where it’s fair to ask, “If musicals are going to be a really big thing on film, why are so many of the stars just meh as singers?”
Ms. Watson is fine, if a bit stiff. The role doesn’t require a great belter. Still, why not get a good actress with a great voice? Someone like Laura Osnes (Broadway’s “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella”) or, more commercially, Anna Kendrick (“Into the Woods”).
Mr. Stevens has been given a big number as well, but it’s impossible to gauge his talent, given how much Auto-Tune and pitch adjustment has been applied to the ballad “Evermore.” The song is more upbeat in spirit but lacks the sheer power of “If I Can’t Love Her,” which was added to the Broadway version. Written by Mr. Menken and Tim Rice, “Evermore” will be eligible for an Oscar nomination.
There’s no crime in revising a much-loved classic. Indeed, Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 take on “Cinderella” is a strong example. But this “Beauty and the Beast” could use a little less digital magic and a bit more humanity.
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