Beast of a “Beauty” in IMAX

The first and biggest beauty of the IMAX release of Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” is that the entire film fills every inch of the giant screen, something rarely done for a major Hollywood movie in IMAX.

The second beauty is literally Emma Watson as the character referenced in the title, Belle. It’s difficult to imagine any actress coming closer to embodying the animated predecessor from the nearly 27 year-old Disney classic of 1991.
In fact, during a special IMAX fan event featuring a Q&A with several cast members and director Bill Condon at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood tonight (March 6, 2017), which was broadcast live to IMAX theaters in selected cities, including a capacity crowd at the Harkins Arizona Mills IMAX in Tempe, Arizona, Watson said Belle and the movie “meant the world to me” when she was a child.

With such a beloved character and movie, Watson felt enormous pressure to get it right — “I didn’t want to mess this up for others and also myself.”
She doesn’t.
But there’s also pressure if audiences do feel she gets it right and embrace her in a second iconic role (after Hermione in the Harry Potter series).
She instantly made it clear she is neither Hermione or Belle when she blurted out a curse word that no doubt caught the thousands of fans watching live off-guard.
“Shit, I am peaked at 26. I’m screwed; where do I go from here,” she exclaimed.

The film’s re-creations of the signature musical numbers from the original, the elaborate dinner extravaganza “Be Our Guest” and the elegant ballroom waltz to the main title song are enhanced and benefit the most by the giant size of the IMAX screen.
Some films present key scenes in the more expansive IMAX format for a few minutes or up to a half-hour, but this is full-frame from the first moment to the last minute of the more than two-hour film.
The IMAX version of the movie, which officially opens March 17, features an expanded 1.9: 1 aspect ratio exclusively in IMAX, meaning that audiences will see 26% more image than in standard theaters.
Condon said during the Q&A that viewing the film recently in IMAX “was like revisiting the set,” especially the waltz scene.

Disney movie fans will also notice the custom-ized Disney logo that precedes the movie in which the traditional Disney castle has been replaced by the one occupied by the Beast in this film.

Multiple new songs are added to the movie, two for Belle, one for Beast, and one immediately following the opening number that introduces Belle’s father played by Kevin Kline in an added scene.
The new songs and new scenes add a significant 45-minutes to the 84-minute running time of the original.
Although the new songs are fine (as is the original “Evermore” sung by Josh Groban over the closing titles), none really add anything to the story or are particularly memorable. Likewise, none of the re-done original tracks and none of the character performances improve on the original, or in most cases even fully match the original.

The brute Gaston character is made much more human here, but therefore not nearly as over-the-top funny, and the hilarious bar pub ode to Gaston of the original does not generate near as many laughs here. Much of this may also be due to the fact that the lyrics are nearly unintelligble – most of these clever lines that each draw laughs in the original go almost unrecognized here:
“No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston’s”; “No one’s got a swell cleft in his chin like Gaston”; “As a specimen, yes, I’m intimidating!”; “In a wrestling match nobody bites like Gaston!”; “As you see I’ve got biceps to spare”;  “And ev’ry last inch of me’s covered with hair”; “I’m roughly the size of a barge!”; and especially “I use antlers in all of my decorating!”

And the obvious intention to make Gaston’s sidekick LeFou have clearly gay tendencies and a crush on Gaston gets in the way of the humor more often than it generates additional laughs. The film also introduces a male character who clearly — albeit very briefly — relishes being forced to wear women’s clothing, and also introduces a multi-racial couple when candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) is brought back to human form as a white Frenchman who quickly kisses his mixed-race girlfriend (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
During the Q&A, Josh Gad, who plays LeFou, noted that he has always been in musical theater and had been waiting to be cast in a Disney musical ever since he starred as a gay missionary in “The Book of Mormon.”
He called the original animated “Beauty and the Beast” the “Frozen” of his childhood (Gad voiced the comedic character Olaf in “Frozen”). And he is pleased that the new “Beauty and the Beast” could be the first time young kids today see a big live-action musical.

The new film also creates several moments that may seem familiar to fans of other classic films, including a “Sound of Music” moment on a mountain hilltop by Belle, a scene straight out of “Frozen” in which the castle and kingdom are magically transformed from cold hard winter frost to colorful springtime, and the “Wizard of Oz”-like reveal of the real-life actors voicing the furniture pieces during the film.

In the opening moments of the film, Watson’s characterization of Belle comes off as a little less charming and carefree than her animated predecessor, who was seemingly too caught up in her books to have the chip on her shoulder or sense of judgment or superiority about her fellow townspeople as Watson exudes initially. But there is an added scene, which Watson said was important to her, in which she is seen taking an active role in helping another young girl learn to enjoy reading, that provides the compassion for Watson’s character that we feel for the rest of the film.

Dan Stevens does a commendable job playing the Beast — he said in the Q&A moderated by Emmy-winning producer of Access Hollywood Live Scott Mantz that he had to act out his role twice, once in costume and then every Friday night in a “Tron”-type cage for recording his facial expressions. But the Beast’s walk sometimes appears lighter than his girth would suggest and his character sometimes seems too obviously digitized.

Kline brings warmth and a little more depth to the character of Belle’s father and overall the movie will bring smiles and joy to the audience because after all, it’s a tale as old as time.

— By Scott Hettrick