Disney's Beauty and the Beast is a lavish spectacle. Fans of the classic cartoon will be very happy with this live-action update. It's pretty much an exact retelling with a slightly deeper dig at a backstory. The film is a wall to wall musical. Characters break into song accompanied by intricate choreography and first rate visual effects. There is a twenty-first century update with a racially mixed cast and sly inferences to homosexuality. The major drawback is the total lack of surprise. Beauty and the Beast is well made, but plays out exactly as expected.
In medieval France, a selfish and vain Prince (Dan Stevens) is cursed by an enchantress. He is turned into a hideous Beast. His servants transformed into objects. All memory of his castle and kingdom are erased. Only true love can break the spell; the falling petals of a magical rose dictating the timetable to an irreversible fate.
Meanwhile in a nearby village, a beautiful farm girl, Belle (Emma Watson), pines for a different life. Educated by her doting father (Kevin Kline), she's confined by the routine and intellectual failings of her small town existence. Belle is adamantly pursued by the handsome but vile Gaston (Luke Evans). She deplores him with every fiber of her being. But the more she rebuffs him, the more he's enthralled. Belle's world changes dramatically when her father disappears on his trip to market. Her desperate search for him leads to a life changing discovery.
Emma Watson looks very young in this part. Her voice is lovely and acting more than capable, but I was constantly aware of her youthful appearance. Belle is obviously a teenage girl, but the Beast and Gaston look old enough to be her father. The fawning suitors are clearly adult men, while the object of their affection is childlike. It struck a weird chord with me. It may by a strange critique on my part, but this was not the case at all in Cinderella. Those characters had an age appropriate feel. The leads in this film do not.
Beauty and the Beast is glorious to see. Disney spared no expense in realizing this world. Every part of this film is technically superb. I tired early of the singing. Musicals are not my cup of tea, but at least I was entertained by the film's grandeur. The hits, like "Be Our Guest" and "Beauty and the Beast" are magnificently arranged. Bill Condon gets top marks for direction. He delivers an opulent, sumptuous film.
It would have been nice to have a less predictable story. The filmmakers played it safe. Apart from the ethnic diversity and Josh Gad's gay character, there's nothing new of substance. They remade a classic exactly. There's a sprinkle of humorous scenes, but generally no real deviation. I wish they had mixed it up a bit. Last year, Kenneth Branagh's update of Cinderella was a smashing success. He stuck to the major themes, but added new plot elements to revitalize the story. Beauty and the Beast needed a little creativity to spice up the script.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast will run over the box office like a train. It has all of the elements of a mammoth hit. There's an audience dying to see this movie. They will not be disappointed. It's exactly what they want to see. I guess that's also where my issues lie. The constant song and dance is done well, but not remotely in my wheelhouse. It would have been great to have a more substantive plot. That's not the case, but I do appreciate the film on a technical level.