Did you ever watch Disney’s 1991 animated classic “Beauty And The Beast” and think, ‘wow, that script was really missing something’? The original, animated, Best Picture Oscar-nominated “Beauty And The Beast” had a running time of 84 minutes. This new live-action adaptation clocks in at 129 minutes and adds little but padding with the extra 45 minutes.
The tale may be as old as time, but after a quarter of a century, Disney has decided to revisit the quiet provincial French village once again. Seemingly self-conscious of its need for a reason to exist, its in many of its deliberate attempts to differentiate itself from its illustrious predecessor that it suffers. Emma Watson makes for an appealing Belle and Luke Evans is note perfect as the boorish, brainless Gaston, albeit he’s allowed to assay a much darker edge to the character than previously shown. Unfortunately, Josh Gad’s LeFou is never anything less than hammy Josh Gad and his much-vaunted ‘exclusively gay moment’ is overshadowed by his consistently lame moments. A last minute change of heart and allegiance by Gaston’s willing accomplice and facilitator feels not only forced but unearned and undeserved, betraying both the point and identity of the character. Dan Stevens, even under CGI, is a credible Beast but unfortunately, the script is tweaked in such a way as to remove any agency whatsoever from the Beast. There is no inherent, deeply buried goodness in him rather everything is taught to him and he’s responsible for very little. He’s not the one who makes the first move over Belle’s castle accommodations or the one who makes an attempt to eat soup with a spoon before Belle compromises by raising the bowl to her lips. They’re only little changes but they add up to a sizeable character distortion.
Maybe it’s unfair to blame Belle for being so keen to wolf down the broth. After all, she conspicuously gets absolutely nothing to eat during the empty and soulless CGI rendition of ‘Be Our Guest’ as the dishes implore Belle to help herself only to whip away any foodstuffs which even go near her mouth. Ewan McGregor is a lacklustre Lumiere and the horrible character design doesn’t help him or Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth.
Shunning ‘Human Again’, the song added back in to the stage musical and restored to the animated feature on home release (despite it fitting perfectly with the live action film’s more supporting cast focused approach), the film instead adds a handful of new songs with lyrics by Tim Rice which only serve to show just how great a lyricist the late Howard Ashman was.
The narrative flow also suffers from the decision to cede some of the romantic impetus to the servants of the Beast’s castle and the script itself is saddled with too much unnecessary explanatory dialogue and exchanges between characters designed to make sure the studio gets its money’s worth from the star names. The egregiously forced side trip to a plague-ravaged Paris is just unpleasant and adds nothing of substance to the story.
Where “The Jungle Book” took the classic animated original and breathed new life into it, “Beauty And The Beast” falls into the trap of trying to both replicate the original and then bolting on some extra stuff to give the illusion of something new. Perhaps it would have been better if there were nothing there that wasn’t there before.