BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: Disney’s current business model for profitable movies is to remake past animated favorites into live action. It worked for CINDERELLA (2015) and THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016). For the most part, it succeeds in this cinematic fairy tale of a bright, bookish young woman (Emma Watson) taken prisoner in a castle inhabited by the werewolf-like title character (Dan Stevens). Most of the songs from Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman’s 1991 work are nicely staged in the style of ‘50s to mid ‘60s Hollywood musicals. When Belle makes her way to a hilltop, you almost expect her to break into “The hills are alive…”. By far though, the best elements of this lavish movie is the production and set design from Sarah Greenwood along with the constantly moving camerawork from Tobias A. Schliessler which helps energize a sometimes lagging screenplay. Casting an intelligent young woman like Watson (THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER) as an intelligent young woman feels like a natural fit. But at times she appears to be a mere spectator to all of the musical numbers from the singing furniture. As I recall from the previous two movie incarnations (See CLOSING CREDITS.), there’s a romance that slowly blossoms between the title characters and I didn’t feel a whole lot of sparks developing between the two here. In fact, when the mutual attraction does manifest itself, it feels way too abrupt as though it were a sort of Disney arranged marriage to be. Luckily, there are some good supporting performances from Kevin Kline (A FISH CALLED WANDA) as well as excellent vocal stylings from Ewan McGregor (TRAINSPOTTING), who sounds like he’s channeling Maurice Chevalier (GIGI), and Ian McKellen (MR. HOLMES). I’ll praise the movie, too, for honoring the source material which is better with each preceeding version. That makes it good enough to be good enough.
CRITIC’S GRADE: B-
CLOSING CREDITS: When I was in college, I was able to see a screening of the original BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946) at a film society exhibition. Though filmed in black and white, Jean Cocteau’s movie is visually dazzling and has a hauntingly beautiful look to its production. Artfully shot, BEAUTY is a positively surreal vision of romantic love that rings true even now and is regarded as one of the great fantasies in the history of film. If you have a chance to see it, it shouldn’t be missed.