Beauty and the Beast is tale as old as time—but is it a tale that needed to be retold?
Walt Disney Animation Studio's original film, released in 1991, became an instant classic that won multiple awards. Plans for Bill Condon to direct a live-action adaptation of the musical were announced in June 2014, with Emma Watson signing on to play Belle seven months later.
By the time filming began in Surrey, England, in May 2015, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Dan Stevens, Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci had joined Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures' ensemble cast.
Analysts predict the new Beauty and the Beast (in theaters March 17) will have a worldwide opening between $215 million and $245 million, beating the worldwide debuts of previous March releases The Hunger Games ($211.8 million) and Alice in Wonderland ($210.1 million). If Beauty and the Beast earns more than $166 million in the United States, it will beat Warner Bros' Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which has been the top March opener since 2016.
But is Beauty and the Beast any good?
Here's what critics are saying:
• "Here's some Disney magic for you: The new Beauty and the Beast actually improves upon the animated classic," USA Today's Brian Truitt writes. Under Condon's deft direction, "unlike last year's The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast marries visual spectacle and sumptuous design work with a better story than its original, casting a spell on old fans and newcomers alike."
• "Emma Watson is the real headliner here, and physically couldn't have been more perfectly cast. But someone really should have screen-tested her before she signed on—with an actual green screen. There are actors who can conjure up a world around them on a blank soundstage and make us believe in it just with their eyes; Watson is not one of those actors," Vulture's Emily Yoshida writes. And Beast's face is "an eerie, uncanny valley blend of lifelike CGI fur and Stevens' human eyes, which never seem to really connect with whatever's in front of them."
• "It's a lovingly crafted movie, and in many ways a good one, but before that it's an enraptured piece of old-is-new nostalgia," Variety's Owen Gleiberman writes. "The sheer curiosity factor exerts a uniquely intense lure. Is the movie as transporting and witty a romantic fantasy as the animated original? Does it fall crucially short? Or is it in some ways better? The answer, at different points in the film, is yes to all three, but the bottom line is this: The new Beauty and the Beast is a touching, eminently watchable, at times slightly awkward experience that justifies its existence yet never totally convinces you it's a movie the world was waiting for."
• "Beauty and the Beast is a movie that can't quite figure out what it wants to say that it didn't already say back in 1991," Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty writes. "It's fine and funny and sweet and lush and some of the songs are infectious, but I still don't completely understand why it exists—and why they couldn't do more with it." Watson in particular is one of the stronger" actors. "More than movies or theme parks, Disney has always been in the business of selling magic," he says. "I wish there was just a little bit more of it in this Beauty and the Beast."
• "A rococo confection featuring fiendishly intricate production values, a bravura, coloratura-rich musical score and whizz-pop state-of-the-art effects," the new Beauty and the Beast "is more than just eye candy. It's a Michelin-triple-starred master class in patisserie skills that transforms the cinematic equivalent of a sugar rush into a kind of crystal-meth-like narcotic high that lasts about two hours," The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin writes. "Only once viewers have come down and digested it all might they feel like the whole experience was actually a little bland, lacking in depth and so effervescent as to be almost instantly forgettable."
• "This live-action/digital hybrid...is more than a flesh-and-blood (and prosthetic fur-and-horns) revival of the 26-year-old cartoon, and more than a dutiful trip back to the pop-culture fairy-tale well. Its classicism feels unforced and fresh. Its romance neither winks nor panders. It looks good, moves gracefully and leaves a clean and invigorating aftertaste. I almost didn't recognize the flavor: I think the name for it is joy," The New York Times' A.O. Scott writes. "There are a few moments...where the digital seams show, and you're aware of the cold presence of lines of code behind the images." But overall, fans will be "happily fooled. More than that: enchanted."
• "This new mainly live-action Disney version of the oft-told story...feels largely perfunctory. Where it flounders most is on the miscasting of several crucial roles," The Wrap's Dan Callahan writes. Watson adds little "zest or edge," Evans "is not at all suited" to the role of the "sexy" and "villainous" Gaston, and Kline is "wasted" in the role of Maurice. McGregor is the "most impressive" voice actor, as he "uses his soaring tenor to fine effect on 'Be Our Guest.'" It's the "one number in Condon's Beauty and the Beast that feels visually impressive and even spectacular, and it suggests that McGregor would have made a far more apt Gaston himself." Only Stevens "is able to make something of his part as written...His blue eyes glow with a kind of warmth that come close to making the romance between the Beast and Belle somewhat believable, if only Condon would give him just a little more time to develop it."
• "How to take a cartoon loved to the point of obsession, flesh it out with actors who can't be expected to live up to the two-dimensional protagonists of fans' imaginations, and open it up to lived-in realism, without losing the pure fantasy of the original?" The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday ponders. "The answer is: with a mixture of careful deliberation and boldness, both of which are on full display in this pleasingly all-out but reassuringly familiar take on a story that might not have started with Disney's 1991 movie but, for many, seemed to end there."
• "There's no need to worry that this version might crush the gentle charms of the 1991 picture: Even though Condon more or less faithfully follows that movie's plot, this Beauty is its own resplendent creature," TIME's Stephanie Zacharek writes. The original songs remain, but "the arrangements are now more like lush floral bouquets, laced with grand orchestral curlicues." The movie "is loaded with feeling, almost like a brash interpretive dance expressing the passion and elation little girls (and some boys, too) must have felt upon seeing the earlier version."
• "Bill Condon's take on Beauty and the Beast is almost overwhelmingly lavish, beautifully staged and performed with exquisite timing and grace by the outstanding cast, many whom are seen on-camera only in brief moments, given they're playing household objects and furniture and the like," The Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper writes. "Although a few new songs have been added and the screenplay does include a few updated touches...the screenplay by Steven Chbosky and Evan Spilotopoulous remains quite faithful to the 1991 animated version..."
• "There's an unbridled joy at watching a cinematic cartoon come to life. If it's done right, every moment has the potential to be a visual marvel," writes Us Weekly's Mara Reinstein, who adds Condon "does a splendid job at marrying rich production designs with old-fashioned spectacle." Even so, "a certain je ne sais quoi is missing here. Perhaps mild disappointment is inevitable when the source material is 84 minutes of charming perfection. This version hovers around the two-hour mark, which is about 20 minutes too long for parents trying to get their young daughters to sit still and pay attention. The extra time is weighed down with three listless and unmemorable new songs from original composer Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice."
• "Beauty and the Beast is a look-at-this-stuff kind of picture...This isn't just a remake; it's an act of cinematic upholstery, with all the padding that implies," The Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang writes. "This Beauty and the Beast is a leisurely, sprawling affair, pausing to revel in its own splendor when it should be picking up the pace—and curiously enough, the result feels less lifelike and more cartoonish than its hand-drawn predecessor in nearly every respect."
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