REVIEW / FANTASY ROMANCE
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (PG)
129 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3/5 stars
The story: For plucking a rose for his daughter Belle (Emma Watson), Maurice (Kevin Kline) gets imprisoned in the Beast's (Dan Stevens) castle. Belle asks to take her father's place and finds that the castle is under an enchantment as the silverware and furniture come to life. What she does not know is that time is running out and the transformations of the castle's residents - a one-time prince and his palace staff - are in danger of becoming permanent.
The 1991 version of Beauty And The Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and, in 2002, it was selected for preservation in the United States' National Film Registry for its cultural significance. It was a major box-office hit with US$425 million in worldwide takings and is beloved by a generation of filmgoers.
In other words, this is a huge title to live up to and, despite the effort, this live-action remake never matches up to the original.
First, the good news.
Casting is one area in which this film fares quite well.
After her turn as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter wizarding films (2001-2011) and now this, Watson seems to have cornered the market on book-smart and feisty young women. And Stevens (Downton Abbey, 2010-2012) imbues the prince-turned-Beast with magnetism through his voice alone. Meanwhile, Luke Evans has fun as the vainglorious and boorish alphamale-about-town Gaston, who has his eye firmly fixed on Belle.
Some attempt has been made to tweak the problematic storyline of a female prisoner falling for a violent captor by making the Beast a tad more petulant than, well, beastly, and somewhat glossing over her loss of freedom. However, the fact remains that Belle is being held against her wishes.
The supposedly "openly gay" character controversy is just a distraction and, if not for the media coverage and threatened boycotts, you probably would have been none the wiser as to the sexual orientation of Gaston's sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad) .
And now we come to the musical numbers, a big reason for the success of the animated film.
Watson looks good and can carry a tune, but she cannot compare with the animated Belle, who looks and sounds like a dream, thanks to animators and the voice of Broadway actress Paige O'Hara.
Be Our Guest, the house-and-dinnerware version of the Under The Sea big ensemble number from The Little Mermaid (1989), is staged here with computer-generated imagery razzle dazzle that is meant to impress, but the animated sequence has greater charm.
Even for a minor role such as the playful young boy/teacup Chip, the animated version simply has more character.
At every turn, one is reminded of the superior 1991 film. It is hard to fully come to grips with this version, when one keeps flashing back to another movie.
Just because this is a tale as old as time does not mean it has to feel like deja vu watching it.