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It’s hard to love new version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Movie trailer: 'Beauty and the Beast'

Disney's new version of "Beauty and the Beast" stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor and Audra McDonald. It opens in theaters Friday, March 17, 2017.
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Disney's new version of "Beauty and the Beast" stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor and Audra McDonald. It opens in theaters Friday, March 17, 2017.

Disney found great success with live-action versions of “Cinderella,” which was stunning in its casting and costuming, and “The Jungle Book,” which featured dazzling special effects.

The magic couldn’t go on forever.

The latest attempt to do a live-action version of an animated film, “Beauty and the Beast,” is neither stunning nor dazzling. It is little more than a mediocre production.

This tale as old as time again features Belle (Emma Watson) falling in love with a handsome prince (Dan Stevens) who has been cursed to live his life as a beast. Complicating the romance is the pompous Gaston (Luke Evans) and his loyal sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad).

The problem with turning the Oscar-winning 1991 animated version of the story into a live-action production starts with the script by Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”). Their story is so rushed that there’s no time for the romance to bloom, die and then be brought back to life.

One of the most important elements of the “Beauty and the Beast” story is how the loss of true love can be so devastating. It is the essence of the whole story.

In this new version, the love story seems rushed. When Belle leaves the Beast, she’s only gone a couple of hours. And, she doesn’t return to save the Beast from his broken heart, but to warn him about an angry mob at his castle door.

The direction by Bill Condon is paced painfully poor. Instead of giving Belle the time she needs to fall for the Beast, he moves things along at such a clip that she never comes across as the Beast’s soul mate.

Time for the romance to blossom could have been found by cutting wasted scenes, such as Belle finding out why she is living with her father in the small village. That story element doesn’t affect the main tale of romance.

Adding to the writing and directing problems is the casting of Emma Watson as Belle. “Harry Potter” fans revere her and she should be praised for all the work she does away from the acting world, but with this film she doesn’t make an audience fall in love with the character. She often fades into the background or fails to show any signs of emotion. Any normal person might find a talking teacup a little shocking.

Watson’s performance pales even more when compared to the work of Luke Evans as Gaston and Kevin Kline as Belle’s father. Evans steals the movie by both capturing the smugness of Gaston and having a booming singing voice. Kline takes a secondary character and makes him far more central to the story through his performance.

Even the costume design by Jacqueline Durran is lacking. The ballgown in “Cinderella” was so incredible that it looked like it could only have been made by a fairy godmother. The yellow gown Belle wears in her big dance number with the Beast has no such magical look but hangs like a day-old banana skin.

Even the makeup for the Beast is underwhelming. The additions of goat-like horns prove to me more of a distraction than add to the design.

These stumbles, fumbles and falls come together to make the live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” more of a beast than a beauty. It’s a tale as cold as time.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

Beauty and the Beast

Movie review

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Audra McDonald.

Director: Bill Condon

129 minutes

Rated PG (violence, peril)

Opens: Friday, March 17

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