Emma Watson and Disney Bring The Classic Fairy Tale To Vibrant Life

Director: Bill Condon

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gatt, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci and Ian McKellan

Studio: Walt Disney

Rated: 14A

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 9 Mins

When Walt Disney’s live action Alice in Wonderland joined the billion-dollar club back in 2010, Disney realized there was a huge fortune sitting in their vault, just waiting tapped by turning animated classics into live action blockbusters (if there’s anything Disney has lots of lying around, it’s beloved animated classics). They’ve stumbled once or twice (last year’s underwhelming Alice Through The Looking Glass) and some humble releases (Pete’s Dragon), but otherwise Disney has hit home run (2014’s Maleficent) after home run (The Jungle Book, which was the fifth highest grossing movie of 2016). But none of them have been as expensive or as risky as Beauty and the Beast, a potential make or break picture for the House of the Mouse’s current box office dominance.

Consider it their current designated hitter.

Video: Zero Media

Belle (Emma Watson) is her village’s most eligible young bachelorette, but she’s more interested in books and her father’s inventions than make-up or the village boys. Her fellow villagers view her with a sneering, detached distaste. All of them that is, except for the war hero Gaston (Luke Evans), who only has eyes for Belle (ironically the only girl in the village not throwing herself at the self interested beefcake). With his sidekick Le Fou in tow (Josh Gatt), Gaston sets out to overcome Belle’s repeated rejections and make her his wife.

But Belle finds herself trapped in a world beyond anything she’s ever imagined when her father (Kevin Kline) is imprisoned by a mysterious stranger in a cursed castle. Taking her father’s place, Belle finds herself in a constant battle of wills with a horrific creature (Dan Stevens) straight out of legend. But as time passes, she discovers that there is genuine humanity beneath the monstrous exterior and realizes she may be the final hope for both the Beast and his enchanted subjects.

Unlike previous animation to live action films, Beauty and the Beast doesn’t merely use its animated predecessor as a template but is often a scene for scene adaptation. It adds little to the 1991 animated classic, but when it does those scenes feel disjointed and out of place. Attempts to dig deeper into Belle’s past, for instance, feel clumsy and unnecessary yet the rest of the film is able to adequately cover up its warts. It faithfully reproduces all the musical numbers from the original-even expanding a few (everyone’s singing about five minutes in)-but as a result some of the musical scenes feel like bloated filler, though the key ones remain intact, allowing them anchor the movie.

Whoever was in charge of casting deserves a raise and an Oscar of their own because it was pitch perfect. Luke Evans hit all the right notes as the vain, self-centred narcissist Gaston (who only has eyes for the only girl who doesn’t have eyes for him). Using the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci as the servants was brilliant and Josh Gatt did an excellent job as Le Fou, providing the majority of the film’s comedic relief. Dan Stevens managed to emote better than many real life actors through the Beast’s CGI façade and he manages to convey plenty of pathos through both voice and occasional song. But the true star is Emma Watson as Belle.

While already facing criticism for her singing (sigh, really?), Watson literally becomes the smart, feisty, fiercely independent and curious Belle and her affection for the character bleeds through in every word and note. Watson has had a hard time finding footing post Harry Potter but her performance here could very likely propel her into Hollywood’s stratosphere. Expect her to win half a dozen people’s choice awards next year and don’t be surprised to see some Oscar buzz in her future. There are scenes where she is simply radiant.

Director Bill Condon deserves serious kudos for bringing all the varied elements (music, singing, an incredible amount of CGI and live action) together into a single, cohesive story. The narrative is simple yet works (and really, given the film’s precarious recipe of visual effects, musical numbers and attempts to remain true to the original, would you really want to make it more complicated?) and for the most part the film delivers.

While it sometimes feels like it lacks the grace and charm of the animated original, that’s probably the bias of unforgiving nostalgia (your inner child screaming at everyone to keep off its lawn). As long as their expectations aren’t unreasonable, fans of the original should, for the most part, be pleased. It even throws in a few special nods to the 1991 original just for the fans, including Celine Dion performing the end credits number.

Beauty and the Beast isn’t perfect but it is a great visual experience that will satisfy fans of both family films and musicals. It’s a great popcorn movie for families and romantics and bridges the gap between generations (it was amusing watching baby boomers, millennials and little kids all laughing at the same joke for the same reason for a change). Watching Watson lose herself as Belle is nearly worth the price of admission on its own (and the fight scene between angry villagers and enchanted furniture doesn’t hurt either).

In the end, it looks like Disney has hit another one out of the park.

Image: Walt Disney