Does anyone need a refresher on the plot of this “tale as old as time”? The one about a girl whose kindness saves a selfish prince and his household from a curse? No? OK, great. I can jump straight into details you may not already know about this latest version.
Yes, Emma Watson can sing. She doesn’t have the widest emotional range as an actress, but her natural intelligence, pluck, and sense of decency make her perfect as Belle, the bookworm who wants more than a provincial life.
Dan Stevens, playing Beast, can sing, too, but his performance isn’t especially memorable. Out of hairy makeup, he’s Generic Pretty Prince. Robby Benson left a stronger impression with only his voice in the 1991 animated classic.
This live-action retelling is faithful to that previous version and has moments of splendor, but it doesn’t improve on the ’91 film so I’m not convinced its existence is justified.
The ballroom scene with Belle in her golden gown? Lovely, but no better than the iconic iteration. The “Be Our Guest” number? Looks more like a typical, splashy musical number here than an enchanting moment with a singing, dancing candelabra and his dinnerware friends. (Ewan McGregor does a fine job voicing Lumiere but I really missed the late Jerry Orbach in this scene.)
One thing that is different is the “gay moment,” as it’s been dubbed in the media. I was pleasantly surprised by it (saw the movie before director Bill Condon’s comments were made public). It’s funny and sweet and just a quick bit, neither in your face nor so ambiguous it leaves you wondering. It’s not a big deal. At all. The hullaballoo and boycotts are much ado about nothing, people judging the movie before they see it.
Oh, and also? Luke Evans, who perfectly embodies Gaston, is openly gay in real life but that didn’t stop the studio from casting him as the alpha male and Belle’s most ardent suitor. Disney is gettin’ with the times, yo.
Another difference is the running time. The animated movie is less than 90 minutes, but this one is about 2 hours 10, which might be too long for little kids to sit through. And this Gaston is more violent toward Beast than I remember the previous Gaston being. Yet this movie is rated PG. Who is its intended audience?
This inconsistency between themes and running time and rating perhaps means the new Beauty and the Beast is trying to be all things to everyone, but as the prince eventually realizes, bigger spectacles don’t equal more substance.
Nerd verdict: Competent if not quite magical Beauty