Regardless of whether this movie gets raves or pans, if you have a princess-obsessed child in your home chances are you're seeing this movie in the theater—probably opening weekend. So let me get right to the good news: my 11-year-old daughter and I, both fans of the 1991 animated original, quite enjoyed Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. It is, perhaps, overly faithful to the source material. But hey, if it ain't broke, right?
There really was no reason for Disney to reinvent this classic, since the sight of Hermione—er, Belle in her frilly yellow dress will probably catapult this movie to the top of the box office. However, this isn't a soulless brand-expanding cash grab, either. For all of its familiarity, Beauty and the Beast is lovely to look at and listen to, with a smattering of new songs and a fairly subtle injection of progressive politics.
Is it good for preschoolers? Is it worth splurging for IMAX? Be our guest and read on for our honest opinions.
Emma Watson plays the sweet Belle, and Luke Evans is Gaston.
Those who know the animated incarnation scene for scene and line for line may notice more differences than my family did. But for the most part, save for additional backstory about Belle's and the Beast's respective parents, the plot hews close to the 1991 movie. Though Emma Watson doesn't possess powerhouse pipes, she's a fine Belle, easily radiating intelligence and independence (hmmm, a bit like another literary character she played). Kevin Kline as her dad is a bit doddering but still charming. Josh Gad (Olaf!) is adorable and hilarious as Le Fou, the right-hand man of Gaston, played by Luke Evans—who, to be honest, came off as mean, not pompous, from the get-go,
Belle, like so many heroines before her, pines for adventure and gets it when she goes in search of her missing father, who's been imprisoned by the Beast (Dan Stevens, unrecognizable save for those luminous blue eyes). Once Belle and her dad trade places, the rest of the movie is a slow-brewing romance between the title characters, as the Beast's enchanted staffers—all employees transformed into animated household wares—try to push them together in order to lift the curse on the castle.
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Fans will appreciate the familiar scenes and songs now in live action.
The fact that this story is so well known means there's not much dramatic tension for most audiences. You never wonder will they or won't they. But you'll probably be marveling so much at the sumptuous visuals that you won't care. I've heard some people ask, why do a live-action version of this movie when so many of the characters—the Beast, Lumière, Cogsworth, and the rest of the servants—need to be CGI anyway? Well, they're still marvelous to behold and seem, at times, truly alive—so much so that you feel their anguish as they slowly become inanimate. The locales are stunning, especially the castle and the rolling hills of Belle's "provincial little town" (which culminates in a wonderful Sound of Music reference). "Be Our Guest," always a jaw-dropping production number, gets the full Busby Berkeley treatment with dishes, silverware, tables, and chairs all engaging in intricately choreographed moves. And scenes of peril—the mob of townspeople with torches, the two wolf pack attacks—are even more terrifying in live action.
The Beast can be scary at times, but there's no bad language or graphic violence.
Which brings me to appropriate ages. Obviously, a lot of preschoolers will go to the movie. And while there's nothing objectionable (no bad language, no suggestive remarks, no graphic violence), there are some very scary moments. The Beast himself could frighten sensitive tots, and the wolves gnashing their teeth and tearing into the Beast's flesh are definitely upsetting, especially in IMAX. If bringing younger children, be sure to (re)watch the animated movie first, so they'll know when to shut their eyes if necessary.
Also, be warned: the new movie is a little over two hours long! That's more than 30 minutes longer than the original. What takes up all that time? A handful of new songs: The best of the lot is “Evermore,” a lovesick ballad sung by the Beast. There's also “Days in the Sun,” which juxtaposes the desires of Belle, the Beast, and the staff to be free; and “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” sung by Belle's dad about her late mother. Since original lyricist Howard Ashman died before the first film was even released 26 years ago, composer Alan Menken (Little Mermaid) collaborated with Tim Rice (who also worked on the Broadway version of the tale).
Another reason the film is so long? The pacing. It's definitely leisurely, but that gives you time to soak up the gorgeous visuals. It doesn't end abruptly when the Beast transforms. Instead there's a scene in which we watch the staff return to their human forms; we see Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), Audra McDonald (a glorious Garderobe with her Tony-winning operatic voice), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette), and Stanley Tucci (Cadenza) emerge from their inanimate prisons along with the Beast, whom you'll either recognize from Downton Abbey or Legion. Either way, it's a bit of a jolt. In fact, Belle makes a great crack about his appearance...perhaps he's not hirsute enough for her taste.
While certain scenes do pop in IMAX 3D, personally I wouldn't spring for it. Though there are a few action sequences, this is not a superhero flick; it's a romance, and you don't need special glasses to enjoy that. I should also mention that everyone in the movie, save for Gaston who doesn't deserve it, gets a happy ending, including Le Fou who's seemingly paired up with another man. Although Menken says Le Fou isn't gay, and certainly, there's no big coming out declaration, it's pretty clear he has a thing for Gaston, and when finally presented with a male dance partner, he's ecstatic. So was the audience at our screening, who let out a hearty cheer. Now that's what I call a happily ever after.
Beauty and the Beast is rated PG and opens nationwide on Friday, March 17. Check out more parent reviews in our Mommy Poppins Movie Guide.
All photos courtesy of Disney