'Beauty and the Beast' review: This one is hard to write

- FOX 5’s Kevin McCarthy gives us his review of the new film, Beauty and The Beast.

1) The film is being released in IMAX with a specially formatted aspect ratio that promises “up to 26%” more of the image. While this is true, the film was not shot with IMAX cameras. All that’s being done here is they are leaving room above the film’s actual aspect ratio for extra parts of the scene that will fill the full digital IMAX screen. I have not seen this version yet but this is similar to what Roger Deakins did for “Skyfall.” The IMAX ticket will cost you an extra $3 so it just depends on whether or not you feel that extra part of the image is important. My opinion on this is that the most important parts of the film were caught in the aspect ratio that can be seen in a regular theatre.

2) It’s important that you look at the theatre listing when choosing your showtimes. There are versions of the film playing in IMAX 2D and IMAX 3D. The film was NOT shot in 3D. I have not seen the 3D version but I just wanted to make sure you know going in that the 3D is converted. That being said, I’ve seen some great 3D conversions of the years so it could be great. Though, if you see an IMAX 3D version of this film, you will be paying upwards of $6 extra per ticket. I’ve only seen the film in a regular format; non-imax and non-3D, which is how the film was originally screened to me at the press screening.

For me, these are hardest reviews to write. “Beauty and The Beast” is a film that reaches levels of greatness in some areas but has major issues in very important areas. While I’ll have a lot to say about the film below, I can just sum it up by saying that the film is just “ok.” It saddens me to say that considering the 1991 film is one of my favorite movies of all time.

Let’s start with what I loved about this film. Dan Stevens is incredible as the Beast. I hope that Disney releases some behind-the-scenes footage of Stevens playing the Beast. Performance-capture and facial capture technology are just another tool an actor uses for a performance. Just because you don’t physically see Stevens on-screen for the majority of the film, doesn’t mean he’s not there. HIs performance is happening right before your eyes. This goes back to the argument of why the Academy Awards haven’t recognized voice and performance-capture artists over the years. How the heck did Andy Serkis not receive a nomination for playing Gollum or Caesar? What about Robin Williams for “Aladdin”? Anyways, Stevens had an incredibly tough task bringing the Beast to the big screen. To give the Beast his height, Stevens had to stand on 10-inch stilts. That also meant he had to learn to dance in stilts, which he first learned on foot and then translated to the stilts. That was a three month learning process. Even more impressive, Stevens walked around with a heavy body suit that had marker dots all over to capture his every movement. That way, the computer artists can take that real performance and translate it to a masterful CGI character. The key is that Stevens adds “life” to the character. Stevens would record the physical performance on-set with Emma Watson and other actors. Then, every couple weeks, he went in to a studio where he did all of the facial capture for the character. I can’t imagine having to deal with all that technology and keep a solidified performance throughout the film.

Oddly enough, this makes me wonder if this affected the chemistry between Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. I’d imagine this was very strange for Watson to stand across from Stevens on 10-inch stilts during the famous dancing sequence in the film. Though, I think the chemistry between the two characters suffered more because I don’t feel Watson was the right casting choice for Belle, unfortunately.

I love Emma Watson. She was amazing as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise. I loved her in Aronofsky’s “Noah” and Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring.” Another great performance from Watson was “The Perks of Being A Wallflower.” Watson has always captured me with her characters and I find that she has a solid range. That being said, I think she was completely the wrong choice to play the iconic character of Belle, originally voiced by Paige O’Hara. First of all, this role requires an extremely talented singing voice. Watson is not a bad singer but she’s not a great singer either. Belle’s initial sequence is supposed to be extremely powerful and grab you right away. As she sings “Belle,” you are supposed to be transported to this wonderful world and suspend your disbelief for the entirety of the film. I felt that Watson had trouble with holding the notes and giving live to those longer notes. There were many times where the words felt very flat which took away from the masterful writing behind these classic songs we all know and love. These songs require a much stronger singer to keep you in the story.

The underwhelming singing then bled in to the performance and the chemistry between Belle and the Beast. The most important aspect of the Beauty and The Beast storyline is the love between Belle and The Beast. The audience has to feel that. We have to believe that. If not, you’re not fully invested in the movie. When Belle arrives to the Beast’s castle to rescue her father (Kevin Kline), I was hoping the chemistry would click right away but it didn’t. As the film went on, I didn’t come around to believing these characters were in love. In the animated 1991 film, that chemistry was instantaneous. I cared so much about Belle trying to help the Beast. I wanted her to fall in love with him so that the curse could be lifted and the Beast could return to his human form as the Prince. I felt their love and this is supposed to be very strong in the third act when Belle races back to the castle to save the Beast. In the original, I felt the anxiety in my stomach because I wanted her to get there and help the Beast before anything happened to him. Though, the moment Watson is riding back to the castle in the 2017 version, I just didn’t care. I even questioned myself as to why I didn’t feel anything. The arc of their relationship felt rushed which is strange considering this new film is longer than the original. I felt like one minute they hated each other and the next minute they loved each other. Without that connection, I felt that it ultimately hurt the overall film.

One of the most famous sequences is the “Be Our Guest” moment. That scene is a classic and absolutely beautiful in the original. In the 2017 film, I forgot Belle was even in the sequence. There were so many cutaways to the characters singing “Be Our Guest” and not enough involvement with Belle. That moment is meant to be a special character arc for Belle. I would assume it was just too hard to have her interacting in the shot with all the CGI elements. I just felt that scene was very underwhelming. Even the famous ballroom dancing sequence felt a bit underwhelming. It’s beautiful in the 1991 classic.

Let’s get back to what I loved about the film. Besides the incredible effort Dan Stevens put in to his performance, I absolutely loved Josh Gad and Luke Evans. Gad, who plays LeFou, has incredible range and is one of my favorite actors working today. From his incredible performance in “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway to his brilliant voice work as Olaf in “Frozen,” Gad has such a great energy and easily helps you suspend your disbelief in his characters. Luke Evans was born to play Gaston. There are actors who were meant to play roles in their career. I feel like Gaston was somehow written with the future idea that Luke Evans would play him. When you put Evans and Gad on-screen together, you have that beautiful Disney magic. These two actors shine and steal the film. This can easily be seen during the famous “Gaston” sequence. Luckily, Gad and Evans are so great that it makes the movie worth seeing. I loved what Gad did with the character. While it’s very subtle, I feel that Gad’s performance is very important and should become a regular aspect in all films.

Continuing on the positive train, I loved Ewan McGregor as Lumiere. I didn’t even recognize him at first. While the performance is done through voice acting, the acting masterfully comes through the CGI character. There is just so much life as you watch Lumiere on-screen. The same goes for Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette. Director Bill Condon used some very creative techniques on-set to create a certain realism for the actors. For example, when Emma Watson first encounters Madame Garderobe, there was actually a moving wardrobe on-set. It physically moved while Emma Watson could hear the voice of Audra McDonald that was previously recorded.

There’s no denying the beauty of the songs written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. When you hear “Beauty and The Beast” or “Be Our Guest,” it immediately transports you back to the classic. Those songs are timeless and still hold so much brilliance all these years later. Menken and Ashman wrote masterpieces and those are still very strong even in the new film.

As I said at the beginning of my review, when a movie has this many positive and negative things about it, I find it to be very tough to write about. There were so many things that I loved from the production design, costumes and lighting to the performances from Gad, Evans, Kline, Stevens and more. What upsets me the most is how much I love the character of Belle. I love that she’s a very strong female character and I love her messages throughout the film. I love what Belle stands for as a character. I just had a hard time with the performance behind that character. Again, Watson is not bad in the film. I just didn’t find her performance to be strong enough to suspend my disbelief in her story. I give “Beauty and The Beast” a 3/5.

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