By the 1970s, Walt Disney Productions was suffering at the box office. Their live-action films were losing money with only a few successes while the animated films they released were only mildly profitable. The 1980s ushered in a convoluted period of collaborations, attempted hostile takeovers and a watering down of a once legendary brand. Then, in 1988, Disney took its’ first step towards animated redemption with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? After The Little Mermaid was a huge success in 1989, Disney’s next effort came in 1991 with the instant classic, Beauty and the Beast. Now, some 26 years later, Beauty and the Beast returns with a brand new live-action CGI event. But, does it recapture the magic of animated predecessor?
First, the new version of Beauty and the Beast offers no surprises as it once again tells the tale of a prince turned into a beast with only the love of a woman to save him and his servants from an eternity of torment. It’s up to the Beast to charm the lovely and adventure-seeking Belle before the narcissistic Gaston can take her as his unwilling bride.
Director Bill Condon has an interesting filmography. He has a Candyman sequel to his credit but also did the amazing God and Monsters (1998) and Dreamgirls (2006). He also gave us an older version of the great detective in the brilliant Mr. Holmes (2015) with Ian McKellan. However, he also has a couple of Twilight films to his credit as well. So, with a career full of hits and misses, it should come as no surprise that Beauty and the Beast is a bit of the same. At times the movie is brilliant and elegant in a magical fairytale way. But in other moments, it seems to feel almost as if it’s going through the motions.The movie is at its best with a great cast. Emma Watson is wonderful in the role of Belle and her voice achieves the same level of wonder that Paige O’Hara did in the ‘91 version. For the most part, Dan Stevens (Colossal) works as the Beast but Robby Benson had a slightly more commanding voice at times in ‘91s adaptation of the classic tale. Luke Evans is perfect as Gaston, as is Josh gad in the role of Le Fou.
Some of the other supporting actors get little screen time as themselves, leaving their voices to carry their roles. Ewan McGregor is excellent as Lumiere, despite having to re-record much of the dialogue to ensure his voice sounded more authentic. Ian McKellan, who turned down the role of Cogsworth in ’91, does an amazing job here nearly three decades later. Unfortunately, I don’t think Emma Thompson quite does as well in the role of Mrs. Potts when compared to Angela Lansbury. Angela owned that role in ’91 and isn’t in jeopardy of losing that crown here. It’s also nice to see the great Kevin Kline dust off his comedic chops in the charming role of Belle’s father Maurice. A great cast elevates the movie despite its downfalls.Where Beast and the Beast suffers perhaps the most is in some of the CGI effects. For such a high profile film, I was surprised that what we see with the wolves sequence made it in the final version. It stands out as a weaker moment and amateurish when compared to the more convincing fire effects seen throughout the film. I also felt like the Beast could have been a little more convincing. At times, he lacked the convincing lifelike quality I had expected. However, it’s hard to tell whether or not the film makers chose to focus on making it more animated to resemble the ’91 film or if the work is simply an example of when a little more time was needed to improve the overall final look.
I also felt like the two new musical numbers from Alan Menken could have been better. They pale in comparison to the other more memorable tunes. We get a few more adult-oriented lines in Gaston’s song, which works well enough and most everyone else does equally great with their music. However, it is a little jarring to hear well-known songs performed by different singers. Ariana Grande and John Legend do in 2017 what Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson did in ’91 with their rendition of the title tune, knocking it out of the park for a new generation. Thankfully, Celine Dion does come with a new song, How Does a Moment Last Forever, played out over the end credits.
At over two hours long, Beauty and the Beast could have done well with a tighter edit as the crowd in my screening got fidgety at about 90 minutes in. It’s a beautiful film that has a magic of its own but fails to live up to the ’91 original. It seemed to be empty at times and came off as a little lackluster. That said, it’s an enjoyable film for the most part and I think families will enjoy it well enough, but younger children might struggle with the long running time.