A preview and review of Disney's new live-action 'Beauty and the Beast'
PORTLAND, Ore. —
Back in 1991 I took my parents to the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood to see Disney's animated feature, "Beauty and the Beast." The fairy tale has always been my favorite, beating out "Cinderella," and "Sleeping Beauty" by a landslide. So, you can imagine my excitement when we got the teaser of this new live action version of "Beauty and the Beast" last year.
The anticipation is over, the film opens to the public March 17. But I got a preview, and I can tell you, it's worth the wait.
Disney has based this version on their original animated feature. All of the original songs are included, the staging is very similar, too. If you're expecting a shot for shot version of the animation, this gets pretty close.
In this updated live version, we get the introductory story of how the prince became the "Beast" as a prologue actually acted out instead of in the little drawn pictures. We meet Belle and see the village the same way; and yes, Emma Watson can sing. The villagers are updated, and more diverse in their casting. Besides Emma Watson, this is an all-star cast, with Kevin Kline as her father, "Maurice," Josh Gad (you know "Olaf" from "Frozen") as "Le Fou," and Luke Evans as "Gaston."
A long-time fan of Kevin Kline, I was looking forward to seeing him in this. His role is small, but he fits. Although this time "Maurice" is an artist, and not a quirky inventor.
Josh Gad proves once again he can do anything, as he sings, dances and snarks his way through the film as the perfect sidekick to Gaston. But there's just something about his character that makes you wonder what his true interest in Gaston is, buddy or more? In interviews, director Bill Condon confirms Le Fou is Disney's first openly gay character. The confirmation comes at the end of the film, but don't let knowing this distract from Gad's performance. He really is on point and nowhere near as goofy as the animated character.
Luke Evans is the perfect embodiment of "Gaston," all swagger and attitude and conceit. His singing voice is stronger than anyone else's in the film, making you wish he had a bit more to do. He embraces the selfishness of Gaston, and plays it to the hilt. The story adds a bit more evil and menace to his character, which is interesting.
Emma Watson is solid, and she looks the part for sure. ("Belle" is given a bit more back story in this version, and so is the "Beast," elements that will help bring them together.) Her performance is perhaps a little subdued though. I would have liked maybe a little more defiance, but we do see some of that fire when she argues with the "Beast." Even with all of Emma Watson's experience in the "Harry Potter" franchise, it seems she struggles a little with reactions and where to look with the CGI characters, and that includes the "Beast."
Speaking of which, I'm still trying to sort him out. The "Beast" is played by Dan Stevens, but of course we don't really see him until the end of the film. (Stevens is best known for his role as "Matthew Crowley" on "Downton Abbey," but you can see him now on the FX show, "Legion.") It's clear there's a lot of CGI surrounding the creation of this character, and I struggled a little bit with it and the interactions the "Beast" has with the real people in the film. His movements at times seem to stutter and his interactions with the practical or real aspects of the film seem just slightly off.
But truly I'm being nit picky here because if you're a fan of the original animated feature or the story itself, I do think you can't but help enjoy this live-action version. I'm also trying not to give away too much. I had no idea who a couple of the characters were until the end when their "personages" are revealed as the spell is broken. Disney has added just enough to make this version feel new and different. That includes several new songs and a couple of plot points. But it is two hours and 9 minutes long, and if you're taking smaller kids to see it, that may be a bit much for them to sit and watch.
"Beauty and the Beast" is rated "PG." It opens March 17.