Editor’s Notes: Beauty and the Beast will be out on in its respective home video format June 6th.
Beauty and the Beast (Disney Home Entertainment) is a live-action remake of Disney’s 1991 animated classic, the only animated film in the history of the Academy Awards to receive a Best Picture nomination.
Based on an 18th-century fairy tale, the movie is faithful to that period in its setting, social structure, and costumes. Emma Watson stars as Belle, a young woman who longs for more than the ordinary life she leads. Gaston (Luke Evans), a square-jawed fellow with a movie star complex, has his eyes on Belle and wants to marry her and, because of his enormous ego and severely limited intellect, simply can’t understand why she rebuffs him.
When her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), fails to return home one day, Belle leaves the village to search for him and comes upon a castle in a dark forbidding forest. Her father has been imprisoned by a terrifying beast (Dan Stevens) as punishment for picking a rose in his garden. She tells the Beast that if he releases her father, she will remain prisoner in his stead.
So begins a time of “house arrest” as Belle first unhappily steels herself to life with this monster, but gradually comes to see the humanity in him as they become both friends and companions.
The castle’s only other inhabitants are a series of inanimate objects that have come to life — a candelabra, a teacup, a saucer, and a clock. The animation of these objects is quite effective and give the movie a sense of magic at work, as well as giving them distinct personalities. They are voiced by Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), and Nathan Mack (Chip).
This is a lavish movie, with production costs showing up magnificently on screen. Director Bill Condon has expanded the original Disney animated film to deepen Belle’s character and make her more independent. The original tunes by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are here — the best known being “Be Our Guest” and the title song — and are supplemented with a few new ones by Menken and three time Oscar-winner Tim Rice that don’t really add anything and tend to make the plot drag.
Ms. Watson has great charm and portrays Belle as a clever individual who regards her contemporaries as provincial. She also exhibits great courage and love for her father when she agrees to take his place in the company of a brutish animal prince. In Condon’s attempt to stay with the basics of the tale while incorporating a modern slant, he sometimes has Belle doing foolhardy things and at other times being generous, thoughtful, and philosophic. Belle therefore comes off as a flawed heroine — innocent enough to fail to recognize danger when it rears its head, yet mature enough to empathize with a scary creature and recognize pureness of heart.
Mr. Stevens’ face is shown at the beginning, heavily made up for a gala, and late in the film when love has transformed him from the Beast into his original (and very handsome) human form. The Beast has less screen time than Belle, so the viewer doesn’t get the chance to see his gradual softening as he is treated with kindness by his captive. Restricted by digital enhancements, Stevens’ features are obscured to such a degree that his Beast might just as well be fully animated.
Evans’ Gaston is initially an annoying bore, but becomes truly villainous as the film proceeds and he recognizes an opportunity to be heroic in the eyes of the townspeople. There’s a scene that will remind you of the original Frankenstein, when torch-bearing villagers, led by Gaston, make their way to the castle to destroy the monster.
Josh Gad plays Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou. This is the character that has created controversy because he’s gay. His “gayness” is merely hinted at; he’s more of a Sancho Panza character — a loyal follower who looks up to Gaston and serves to constantly feed the big guy’s need for approbation. Kids will regard him as comic relief, which is his major role. LeFou is a friend whose loyalty is seriously tested by Gaston’s bad behavior.
Beauty and the Beast continues Disney’s recent trend of remaking its animated films. With all its visual splendor, large cast, and special effects, however, this new film somehow feels shallow and lacking heart. In addition, it could stand some pruning to pick up the pace.
Rated PG, Beauty and the Beast adds little to the original animated version, with the exception of advances in digital technology. It’s pleasant enough, and children will probably enjoy all the visual razzle dazzle. It’s just a pity that this remake couldn’t be more distinctive.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include footage of a table read of the movie’s script with the entire cast; a documentary exploring how the Disney animated classic was updated as a live-action fantasy film; Celine Dion discussing her rendition of “How Does a Moment Last Forever;” extended version of the song “Days in the Sun;” Beauty and the Beast music video with Ariana Grade and John Legend; and musical sing-along feature. A digital HD copy is enclosed.