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‘Beauty and The Beast’ (review)

Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky
and Evan Spiliotopoulos

Based on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
and Beauty and the Beast by
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

Directed by Bill Condon
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans,
Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor,
Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Ian McKellen,
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Emma Thompson

 

“Tale as old as time” could be used to describe much of Disney’s repertoire.

The studio has always drawn on traditional stories and fairy tales for its Princess series, updating them slightly for modern audiences.

In the new live-action Beauty and the Beast, they turn to their own canon to recreate a modern classic with resounding success.

This remake could easily stand alone, but it is the care they have taken to weave in so much of the original movie that pulls at the heartstrings of reminiscing adult viewers.

To those uninitiated, Beauty and the Beast is the story of Belle (Emma Watson), a bookish girl unaware of her beauty and out-of-sync with the provincial French town she lives in with her father. When he disappears on a trip to the marketplace, she finds him the captive of a monster in a mysterious castle where everything is alive. Belle agrees to take her ailing father’s place and stays with this “beast” (Dan Stevens) who, unbeknownst to her, is actually a prince cursed along with his subjects for his selfishness. It can only be broken if he finds love before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls, or else all will suffer their transformed fates forever.

The nods to the animated film are comforting shot-for-shot (and word-for-word) recreations of some of the most iconic scenes such as Belle asking the Beast to come into the light or their shared moment sipping from bowls at the dinner table. Newly added sections, songs, and characters give answers to questions that only plagued us as adults (Where is Belle’s mother? Why does no one remember this giant castle in the woods? Is there a Mr. Potts somewhere?), and create a backstory for old favorites and new minor additions like Stanley Tucci as Cadenza the grand piano and the expanded musical role for Audra McDonald’s Garderobe the wardrobe.

Each animated object is designed with a thoughtful eye for the realism of live-action, blended with just enough anthropomorphic touches while steering clear of Who Framed Roger Rabbit territory. The combination of elaborate physical sets with top-notch CGI and motion capture technology is a seamless triumph that lets this version keep the magic while working with reality.

Character development across the board is increased, especially in Emma Watson’s wonderful portrayal of Belle. She is far better-rounded, actually interacting with books rather than using them as props. She quotes Shakespeare, teaches children to read, and argues literature with the Beast. He also benefits from extended non-musical scenes with Belle that show him as well-educated and royally charming, but also a bit arrogant and classist. There is a maturity to their love story now as the Beast’s affection towards her grows not only because she is beautiful and kind, but because this updated version of Belle is given the chance to show she is also clever and deeply principled.

There are a few additional twists but the movie sticks closely to its source material. All the familiar songs from the animated feature are still present and delightful, with nothing lost in minor changes of arrangement to better suit the range of the cast. Three additional songs were added with care (“Our Song Lives On,” “For Evermore,” and “Days in the Sun”) and blend in perfectly with the original score.
Across the board, the musical performances are enjoyable though there is a significant difference in tone with Watson’s portrayal of Belle.

The original Disney movie cast Paige O’Hara right off of Broadway, and the gap between the power and assertiveness in her voice versus Watson’s sweet, clear, youthful one is noteworthy. Even though it means that the crescendos are a tad reserved, notable numbers like the reprise of “Belle” and her part of “Something There” are still beautiful to hear.

A bigger surprise is the truly amazing voice of Dan Stevens, who has little professional experience singing but expertly belts out the original song “Forever More” after letting Belle return to her father. Close behind are Josh Gad and Luke Evans, who make “Gaston” one of the more fun performances of the human cast. “Be Our Guest” is a CGI wonder, and every bit the showstopper of the animated version. Ewan McGregor did a wonderful job crafting a French accent that pulled back from the overly flowy cartoon Lumiere, and keeps it flawlessly throughout the song.

This film is Disney’s love letter to every current adult that watched this at home or in theaters in the 90s. In the move from 2D to 3D, they have given depth not only to the physical aspects but the emotional ones as well. Everyone knows that at its heart Beauty and the Beast is first and foremost a love story, and this version sees some of the silliness toned down while the drama and romance take center stage.

The narrator asks “who could ever love a beast?” and the answer is certainly “everyone in this theater”.

 

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