'Beauty and the Beast' dazzles, falls short of animated original

Beauty and the Beast
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Bill Condon
Writers: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulous
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
Genre: Musical, Fantasy
Rated: PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images
Recommended to: Those looking for essentially a retread of the animated feature with new songs and same old dance

Synopsis: A young woman is held captive by a prince who has been transformed into a beast.

Review: In 1991 Disney released the animated film “Beauty and the Beast.” The studio was getting back on its feet after what had been a rather unimpressive decade (at least by box office standards). Building off the success of 1989’s “The Little Mermaid” (the underrated “The Rescuers Down Under,” which was released in 1990, is an overlooked blip on the timeline in the same way 1995’s “A Goofy Movie” is) “Beauty and the Beast” propelled the studio to dizzy heights and paved the way for something of a 10-year renaissance (before taking a backseat to sister-studio Pixar).

“Beauty and the Beast” was the studio’s first foray into digital animation. Granted, it was only for one scene, but it pointed to a future where traditional animation would become a rarity. The film was nominated for Best Picture (the Animation category was added in 2001) and won Oscars for Original Score and Original Song.

When compared to recent live-action remakes from Disney, “Beauty and the Beast” is the most similar to the animated film it is based on. There are a handful of new songs and a few different beats, but for the most part the film attempts to recreate the magic of the animated classic.

The film does well enough in its recreation that most fans will be placated and younger viewers will undoubtedly be enchanted. The technical aspects are extremely impressive and I suspect that the film will be nominated for numerous Academy Awards. The irony here is that this “live action” film is heavily animated, particularly when it comes to the various house servants. Not that anyone should be remotely surprised. We live in a day and age where the wonders of “The Adventures of Roger Rabbit” (mixing animated characters with live actors) are commonplace. Although, I do enjoy the idea of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson running about in costume, rather than CGI.

The acting is adequate, with Luke Evan’s Gaston being the standout. Emma Watson is good, but anyone expecting the actress to be phenomenal will sadly be let down. Of course there is Josh Gad’s LeFou, which has received far more attention that the performance or the character deserve. LeFou’s adoration for Gaston was always, even in the animated film, a bit silly and, well, gay. That’s where the majority of the humor between the two characters came from. Is it more apparent here? A bit, but you’d still have to be looking for it.

Ultimately, “Beauty and the Beast” is good enough to recommend, but certainly falls short of being the spectacular movie experience that you might expect it to be. It certainly isn’t better than the original.

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