Beauty and the Beast (2017) Disney/Musical-Fantasy RT: 129 minutes Rated PG (some action violence, peril, frightening images) Director: Bill Condon Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos Music: Alan Menken Cinematography: Tobias Schliessler Release date: March 17, 2017 (US) Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nathan Mack, Hattie Morahan, Adrian Schiller, Gerard Horan.
The big question on every movie lover’s mind this weekend is surely this: Does the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast measure up to the original 1991 animated Disney classic? My answer is yes, mostly. What I mean to say is that while it remains faithful (more or less) to the original, it doesn’t improve on it. How can one improve on perfection? It was the first animated movie to cross the $100 million mark. It was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture. It’s a magnificent and beautiful film.
The new version, directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), is very good. Very, VERY good. It’s impressively staged, visually gorgeous and perfectly cast. Emma Watson, best known as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, makes an excellent Belle. She’s grown into a striking young woman and has a pretty good singing voice. There’s a lot to love about the new Beauty and the Beast. Alas, it’s not quite the magical viewing experience the first one was. It’s a tad overlong and CGI is no substitute for traditional 2D animation. Don’t get me wrong, the effects are really good but it’s just not the same.
It’s a tale as old as time so I’m sure you already know the story of how a beauty came to love a beast. An enchantress places a curse on a selfish prince (Stevens, Downton Abbey), turning him into a hideous beast after refusing to show an old beggar woman kindness. His servants are turned into household objects and the castle is transformed into something out of a nightmare. She leaves behind a magic rose and a warning that he must find true love before the last petal falls or else he will remain a beast forever.
Belle, who lives in a nearby village, is something of an outcast among her neighbors. She’s intelligent and fiercely independent. That’s in addition to being incredibly beautiful. She usually has her nose in a book and head in the clouds wondering if there’s more out there than her provincial life. She has bigger dreams that don’t involve Gaston (Evans, The Hobbit), a vain, not-too-bright braggart determined to make her his wife. She wants no part of that and tells him this but he’s not one to take no for an answer.
Her overprotective father Maurice (Kline, A Fish Called Wanda) heads out on business one day and doesn’t return. He has an unfortunate run-in with the Beast when he enters his castle uninvited seeking shelter, warmth and food. He’s held prisoner for picking a rose for Belle from the castle garden. Belle shows up and offers to take her father’s place as the Beast’s captive guest. At first, she’s miserable but that changes when she starts seeing something in her host that she didn’t see before.
So what’s different about this Beauty and the Beast other than the transition from animation to live-action? A few things actually. We finally learn why Belle’s mother isn’t in the picture. We get some background on Beast as it pertains to his family. The songs from the original movie are all there along with four new songs written by original composer Alan Menken. “Evermore”, sung by Stevens after he sets Belle free, is especially good. Ariana Grande and John Legend collaborate on a new version of the theme song and do it complete justice. There are a few other differences but I’ll leave it to you to see for yourself.
The musical numbers are quite impressive. I was concerned they’d mess up “Be Our Guest” but they don’t. It’s still a feast for the eyes; it’s reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley number. I also loved Watson’s rendition of “Belle”; it’s still a show-stopper. The climactic action sequence where Gaston storms Beast’s castle with a mob is still cool. The CGI recreations of beloved characters like Lumiere the candlestick (McGregor, the Star Wars prequels), Cogsworth the clock (McKellen, the LOTR trilogy), Mrs. Potts the teapot (Thompson, Nanny McPhee) and Plumette the feather duster (Raw, the art film Belle) are fairly well done. They don’t stoke the imagination like their animated counterparts; in fact, they look slightly on the fake side. However, no expense was spared on Beauty and the Beast (a $160 million production) and it shows.
The entire cast does an amazing job. Watson is a delight as the brave Belle, a girl who’s never afraid to speak her mind. Stevens does an equally great job amidst all the assistance from computers (facial expressions), animators (features) and sound technicians (voice). Kline is great as the less-eccentric version of Maurice. McGregor and McKellen have some great interplay. Thompson stands in for Angela Lansbury (who voiced Potts in the original) nicely even singing a beautiful version of the title song during the famous ballroom dance sequence. It’s still quite stirring.
Josh Gad (A Dog’s Purpose) voices LeFou, Gaston’s hapless flunky. There’s been some controversy over his character being obviously gay. One theater in Alabama has refused to show Beauty and the Beast because of one scene near the end. It shows LeFou dancing with another man for two seconds. First of all, Gad does a fine job in the role. Second, so what if the character is gay? I doubt that young kids will even notice this. This Beauty and the Beast is a great movie. It’s heartfelt and will likely wring a few tears. It will definitely appeal to both children and hopeless romantics. It’s another successful live-action remake for Disney. This tale as old as time is timeless.