This live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” is so much like the original, animated film from 25 years ago that it’s basically like a cover song. But is it Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” or is it Limp Bizkit’s “Faith”? Well, it doesn’t hit either extreme, but it’s pretty cool, nonetheless.
If you’ve seen “Beauty and the Beast” from 1991, then you’ve seen “Beauty and the Beast” from 2017. It is that faithful to the original film. This version just brings the animated one to life. Actually, let me stop there and re-wind. The animated version already brought its story to life – beautifully – over 25 years ago; this one just brings it to live-action. But at least it does so nicely.
And that’s not exactly an easy task. The animated film had talking teapots, candelabras, clocks, etc. that easily could have looked really stupid and cheesy in live action. But they don’t. Director Bill Condon and his team of artists do a good job of translating the film. Sure, the computer generated Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Misses Potts aren’t as expressive as their hand-drawn counterparts, but they are still nice to look at, especially a talking wardrobe (Audra McDonald), Mrs. Garderobe (…naturally), with a curtain for a mouth and gold gilding to form the eyes.
The whole movie is nice to look at. It’s ridiculously opulent. The sets are detailed, immense, and border on the baroque. But that’s what the audience, myself included, is partially seeing the movie for. A Lars von Trier-esque, minimalist “Beauty and the Beast” with bare sets, wouldn’t make much sense.
Yeah, the visuals might sometimes border on tacky, but they never become garish. My eyes were thankful for that. Condon is a tasteful director, having made such lauded films as “Gods and Monsters,” “Kinsey,” and, err, the last two “Twilight” movies? Okay, forget those last two. My point still stands, though. He a classicist and his vision serves the movie well.
But he might just be a little too tasteful. Some moments don’t quite have the punch that they need. Belle’s (Emma Watson) declaration in the finale seems to have too little lead-up. The film cuts to her and before we really have a handle on the moment, she declares…well, you know the story. It’s just too quick and came across better in the animated film. There are several such occurrences throughout where certain moments needed just a few more seconds to breathe and they don’t have them.
Also, some things just work better in animation. When the animated version of Belle is hit in the face with a giant snowball, it’s funny. When the live-action Belle is clobbered with one, it seems kind of violent.
But I’m nitpicking. None of this will, rightfully, matter to most people. The fact is that there is a lot to like in the movie. It’s gorgeous and, darn it, I enjoyed all of the actors in it. Looking over my notes, I scribbled things like, “Emma Watson is great,” “I love Kevin Kline! I just wish he would sing more,” and, my favorite, “Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen = awesome.” (There sure are a lot of Mcs in this movie, aren’t there?)
Look, by the time the titular characters were dancing in the ballroom to Emma Thompson (I’m pretty sure I declared her awesomeness somewhere in my notes also) singing the title song, I was won over. Yeah, it’s not perfect, I guess, but it’s still a really good time. It’s now a little after 4 pm as I write this. It’s over four hours since I left the theater and I still have those darn catchy songs stuck in my head and, maybe more importantly, I just kind of feel good.
So what does this movie offer that the original doesn’t? Nothing, really. But it’s still a heck of a good time. Enough so to warrant buying a ticket.