Review: "Beauty & the Beast" Offers Capable (and Close) Story Retelling for 2017

The new live-action Beauty & the Beast officially opens this week. It was less than a week ago that we watched the 9-minute preview at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and I wasn't sold on the film from that. Emma Watson, in my opinion, is not a perfect Belle and doesn't have the captivating presence that Luke Evans (Gaston) and Beast (Dan Stevens) have. The first half of the film is a little slow for me, but the second half delivers a strong romance between Belle and Beast and a solid ending.

Beauty and the Beast is a close retelling of the animated version. Unlike some of the other live-action Disney remakes, it doesn't venture very much off that path except mostly to add in some new music and backstory. I thought the backstory was pretty unnecessary, including the addition of explaining what happened with Belle's mother. I didn't find it added any major dimension to the overall story.

Belle (Watson) opens the movie with her namesake song, as she walks through the village and everyone watches and wonders about her. That she'd even be that noticed didn't ring true to me, there is nothing that stands out about Emma Watson's Belle in a crowd. There is a Sound of Music style moment that is interesting.

As much as I'm not intrigued by Belle, Gaston (Evans) is. Luke Evans is masterful in this role, infusing Gaston with much humor and conceit. He brings the character to life, with his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) who has a crush on Gaston - though the "moment" in the film is barely one at all (in my opinion) and actually has nothing to do with Gaston. Gad is terrific, and there are even a couple of lines he has that reminded me of his voicing Olaf. The song "Gaston" as sung by Josh Gad is rollicking fun.

Dan Stevens is remarkable as Beast, whether gruff or as he softens towards Belle. Stevens created the character in motion capture, it isn't a full body costume. "Evermore" is my favorite of the three new songs written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice (the other two songs are "Days in the Sun" and "How Does a Moment Last Forever"). "Evermore" is sung by Dan Stevens in the movie, and Josh Groban during the credits. Both are beautiful versions of the song and it's destined to become a classic, as are most of Menken's songs for the original film with songwriter Howard Ashman (who died during the making of the original movie).

The musical numbers in the film don't always move me as they did in the animated film. The lush ballroom scene in the animated Beauty and the Beast that took my breath away with its animation and music is very different here - a little less romantic, not groundbreaking but beautiful in its own right. The Be Our Guest scene is fun but doesn't seem to have the grandness of the original. It's hard not to compare when you've seen near perfection in a movie with the same story already.

On the other hand, the library scene with Stevens and Watson is where I got the first lump in my throat and tear in my eye. When Beast shows Belle his library and gives it to her, that probably moved me more than any other scene in the film. I think Watson shines best in the film when she has scenes with Stevens.

The supporting characters are all capable. Kevin Kline plays Maurice, Ewan McGregor is Lumiere, Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts, and so on. It's really an all-star cast. The way Mrs. Potts was animated seemed a little odd to me, but I liked all the other characters.

I don't recommend this version of Beauty and the Beast for young children without parents seeing it first. It has quite a few dark and loud moments, including gunshots near the end of the movie and wolves in some scenes.

Overall I enjoyed the movie, particularly the second half as it picked up steam.

Read our interview with executive producer Don Hahn here.

Mousesteps grade: B



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