First Hit: Although sweet enough, this film is why I generally don’t like musicals.
Those that have read me for years know I’m particular about and generally not a fan of musicals. The songs have got to work, not take me out of the flow and feeling of the film, and make sense. Songs that are difficult to understand or take too much thought, or fail to help the film’s flow, are not worth singing or having in the film. This movie fails to meet my tolerance levels from the get go and therefore it was hard for me to sit through it.
In the prologue, prior to being introduced to the oddity of Beauty (aka Belle - Emma Watson) and the townsfolk, the film sets up the reason why we have the Beast (Dan Stevens). He’s full of himself and because he doesn’t care about anyone else, a spell is put on him by the Enchantress (“Agatha” - Hattie Moran) that damns him and others around him to a life of non-humanness unless he is loved by another. The Enchantress gives him until the last petal of a rose, encased in a glass cover, falls to find someone to love him. When the last petal falls, he dies and the others are doomed to a life as inanimate objects.
After the brief prologue, we segue back into the local town we have Belle prancing and walking through town with the townsfolk singing out how odd she is because she reads books. Because we’ve no other background, except knowing that her dad Maurice (Kevin Kline) is a tinkerer, lives with his daughter and her mother is long gone; were just suppose to believe she's odd. It was hard for me to believe this. The film story just wants us to believe this "oddity" story.
Belle is being wooed by Gaston (Luke Evans) who is all brawn (self-labeled) and no brains. Belle sees through Gaston and spurns him at every pass. Gaston’s man Friday LeFou (Gosh Gad), is one of the best parts of this film with fanfare, flair, and a jousting way, he quips through this role only to backtrack on them later.
One of the difficulties of listening to the songs was that Watson’s singing was overly processed and, at times, sounded like it was through a vocoder and unnatural. I’m not sure if this was done for effect or because Watson doesn’t have the kind of singing voice that worked for the character. This use of processing singing voices cropped up in multiple places throughout this film.
Although many of the characters were cute, Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Madame de Gerderobe (Audra McDonald), Chip (Nathan Mack) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), I only found an occasional enjoyment watching their interaction with each other and with Beauty or the Beast.
For the most part, within fifteen seconds after a song started I wanted it to end as these songs were taking me out of story.
Watson was good and believable as Belle, although I really didn’t like what was done to her voice when singing. Her slight English accent and obvious intelligence was helpful in making this film seem enchanting. Kline was even keeled, believable and strong as Belle’s father. His character felt grounded. Stevens was OK as the Beast although the CG Beast was what the audience mostly experienced. Only in the beginning and end did we have Stevens as the Prince. Evans was good as the swashbuckling Gaston. Gad was the best part of this film. He was funny and was obviously committed to his role. The remaining of the actors were basically CG objects for most of the film which makes reviewing their work difficult. Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos were responsible for the screenplay. Given it is an established story, their modifications were OK. Bill Condon had a clear vision of what he wanted and for the most part it was executed well, however it just isn’t my cup of tea.
Overall: My wife loved the film, and I was occasionally amused and mostly bored because the songs took away from the actual story.