While the tale of Beauty and the Beast may be as old as time, Disney’s newest live-action adaptation is a fresh take that honors the original animated film, while fleshing out the original story and characters. The fantastic cast, guided by the steady hands of director Bill Condon, give the film a new heart, and it’s quite possibly one of the most beautiful looking films you’ll see all year. While there are moments that falter a little throughout, the overall film delivers a refreshing new take on a classic, while adding enough to enrich the story and capture the hearts of audiences both old and new.
Over the last decade, Disney has been hard at work transforming select animated films into live-action “re-imaginings,” amidst their steady cadre of original live-action films. While some of the films (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent) focused more on original stories set in the same world as the original films, the more recent efforts have trended towards faithful live-action adaptations of the original films. And it’s not very hard to see why. See what I did there?
While Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent were both well received, there was less of a chance of upsetting the nostalgic masses, with both films being a part of their original films universe, yet still focusing on an original story. The idea of doing a more faithful live-action adaptation of a beloved animated classic, would seem like a slam dunk to many. The consequences of attempting this feat and failing, however, would also seem hard to ignore. The adoration that decades of fans have for these films is undeniable. The first film attempted, 2015’s Cinderella, was a smart move in terms of testing the idea. While arguably the most famous Disney princess overall, the original film was old enough to allow for a fresh take, without upsetting as many people who had grown up with the film. Personally, I never really cared for the original Cinderella, even though I’ve watched it numerous times, as the father of a 5-year-old girl who sees herself in every princess. After watching the finished film however, I found it refreshing and (if I’m being fully honest) I really loved it.
However, I was a movie-loving nerd-child during the Disney animated “rejuvenation” heyday, with films like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King capturing my fancy. These films (along with the original Beauty and the Beast) were played heavily in my own private home cinema, which was basically a junky TV, a VCR, and boxes of VHS tapes. Amidst the likes of Star Wars, ET, Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Disney films were in heavy rotation within my viewing needs. That being said, I walked into the screening of this new film with my wife, who lists the original Beauty and the Beast as her favorite film of ALL TIME. Our house has it’s fair share of Belle and Beast collectibles, from statues and toys, to art and more. That 5-year-old princess-enamored girl I mentioned earlier? Her middle name is Belle, and she’s in love with the animated film as well. So to say that this new movie has a lot to live up to is a bit of an understatement.
I’m not going to delve into the story really, because if you’re reading this then there’s a good chance you already know the plot of the film. What I will say is that a few simple lines of expositional dialogue added into the film does a wonder of eliminating plot holes, inconsistencies, and annoyances I’ve always had with the original film’s storytelling. And for me, it made a noticeable difference. The three areas I cannot praise enough were the casting, the music, and the production design.
I know that for many, the casting announcements were pretty lukewarm when originally revealed. As a hardcore Potter nerd, I loved the idea of Emma Watson getting to sink her teeth into a leading character like Belle. While she obviously doesn’t have the same Broadway-style pipes of Paige O’Hara, she more than holds her own, giving Belle a more natural unpolished voice. The rest of the cast is pretty perfect as well. Dan Stevens’ voice is hidden behind some obvious audio enhancement, but he’s still able to convey the anger and loneliness of the Beast. Kevin Kline is given a chance to flesh out Belle’s father Maurice much more, and the role suits him well. The enchanted servants from the original film are all here including Lumiere (Ewan MacGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack). New character additions include Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), who are also given a decent amount of story to work with. For me personally, though, the highlight has to be the dynamic duo of Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou. While I’ve been a fan of Evans for quite a while, it’s fantastic to see him sink his teeth into a role like this. His Gaston didn’t feel quite as much of a creeper in the beginning as he was in the original film, but his arc throughout the film is more dynamic and natural, and Evans handles both the comedic and dangerous aspects of Gaston with ease. Josh Gad as LeFou feels like he was simply created by Disney to play this part. While having the look down perfectly, Gad has previously shown how powerful a voice he has, with his co-starring role in The Book of Mormon on Broadway, as well as Olaf in Disney’s mega-hit, Frozen. However, he truly gets to shine while bringing out the humanity in LeFou, and the changes they made to the character are absolutely great. And yes, there’s a “longing hug” in the movie. If that’s too “gay” for you, then I don’t know what to tell you? Piss off maybe?
The music in the original film by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, garnered many nominations and awards, including the Oscars for both Original Score and Original Song. Sadly, Howard Ashman passed away before the film was released. For this newest film, original composer Alan Menken returned with Aladdin and The Lion King lyricist Tim Rice, to compose new music including 4 new songs. The music of the original film is so iconic, I was worried that anything new might sound like something from a direct-to-DVD sequel, or one of the original films deleted songs. However, the new tracks are quite beautiful, and one in particular “Evermore” finally gives Beast a solo to sing (always an issue for me in the original). Any worries I had pretty much evaporated once the film began and the score kicked in. While the arrangements of many of the songs and score are still present, there are enough changes in the timing and delivery that make them feel fresh, enough to differentiate them from the originals.
Finally, the amount of sheer beauty on display in the film’s production design is pretty staggering. For every scene in Beast’s castle, every inch of the screen is filled to the brim with so much attention to detail, it’s incredible. It’s really hard to describe in full detail, but once you’ve seen the movie, there’s little doubt as to who the front-runner for next year’s Oscars will be for production design, costume, etc. It’s simply one of the most beautiful films you’ll see this year.
Walking out of the film, my first thought was wanting to know what my wife thought of it (she loved it), as she’s a perfect example of what a good portion of the new film’s audience will be. We both agreed there were a few moments that seemed a little off. I felt like some of the animation for Beast wasn’t 100% and that Ian McKellen was a little miscast as Cogsworth, but those are simply the nitpicking of a movie nerd and they don’t harm the film overall. I’ll be taking both my son and my daughter to see this once it releases, since I know they’ll love it. Honestly, though, I’d be going back again even without them. For me, there’s not enough cynicism in the world to overpower the joy I felt watching this.
Overall: 5 Nerdskulls
Watch the trailer here:
Beauty and the Beast opens nationwide on Friday, March 17th, 2017.
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