As certain as the sun (punny aren’t I), you’ll find the animated version of Beauty and The Beast on more than a few top five favorite Disney movies. For many, this particular Disney offering makes their favorite movies of all-time list with a pretty high ranking. Given its favored status deciding to make a live action remake of the beloved tale is a high-risk proposition. Writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos turned out a screenplay that – rightly – stays faithful to the animated original but creates opportunities to fill in some Disney blanks (like what exactly happened to Belle’s mother) and dig a bit beneath the technicolor surface of its characters.
The opening sequence, still about how Beast came to be, is a bright glittering homage to sweeping opulence and excess set to the exultant voice of Audra McDonald (who later becomes the narcoleptic wardrobe Madame Garderobe). While audiences will recognize all the iconic moments from the animated tale brought to stunningly to life, there are subtle changes and timeline explanations worked in that ease the more fantastical elements of this tale’s path into the three-dimensional world. The direction and dreamlike quality of the cinematography preserves the air of mystery and lightness which were hallmarks of the original.
With a cast led by Emma Watson as Belle, Luke Evans as Gaston, Josh Gad as LeFou, Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and Dan Stevens as Beast this live action musical hits all the familiar notes with a production flair Rodgers and Hammerstein would wholeheartedly applaud. The songs are reset in a key manageable by the cast members but close enough to the beloved (and often sung) tenor of the original score to not be too jarring or a complete deal breaker – but if the animated version is your jam, you’ll notice. There are a few news songs to accompany these additional scenes that up the sweetness (and bittersweet) factor underlying such moments. There are a few visual moments (and accents) that don’t quite gel but overall, both the cast and setting carry the day through to the end.
Emma Watson may not have the honeyed tone – or vocal range – of Paige O’Hara but she turns in a lovely relatable performance as the inquisitive bookworm. Watson’s Belle has her feet firmly planted on the ground and her eyes to the horizon. She comes across as less sheltered and naive but still holds that ephemeral quality that makes Belle such an admirable and loved character. This Belle pushes the edges of her village, openly displaying her intelligence in more ways than simply being seen reading about town. Her relationship with her father Maurice, played by Kevin Kline, has a touch more depth and nuance to it. These changes add, not only time to telling this tale, but weight to the feelings that anchor their relationship in a way that casts her sacrifice in a brighter light.
There are more than a few stand out moments from among the cast but it must be said that Luke Evans is an astoundingly perfect Gaston from his physical appearance to the overt self-absorption that’s this character’s trademark. There are moments of pure hilarity around his pursuit of Belle that are only made more amusing by Josh Gad’s performance as Gaston’s ever present side-kick Lefou. Gad owns this role with a hair flip and undeniable wit and timing. The tongue-in-cheek byplay between the two hits all the right notes and will pull more than one chuckle from the audience. Just as in the original, Lefou is a brilliant foil for Gaston and in this version a realistic bridge from more than one outrageous moment.
As I mentioned earlier, this film is longer; 45 minutes longer. The increase throws the pacing off slightly and causes some hiccups in the movie’s timing and progression but not so much as to destroy that magic that fuels the overall appeal of Beauty and The Beast.
Overall Beauty and The Beast is a delight to the eyes and ears and the story holds up outside its animated roots. The so-called controversy around this film is extremely overblown and wholly irrelevant. So, feel free to safely bring the whole family and expect more than a few moments when you’ll catch yourself humming a tune and coveting a library (seriously I’m all about the Stockholm Syndrome wherein the girl gets herself a kickass library).
Did we need a live action version of Beauty and The Beast? No, but if one must exist it’s can’t be done much better than this. And just as with the original, I’m betting you’ll favor Emma Thompson’s version of Tale as Old As Time over the slicker radio version (and I say that as a John Legend fangirl).
Beauty and The Beast hits theaters today (March 17, 2017) so grab those tickets and join the sing-a-long.
Rating: 3.85 out of 5.00
The story and characters audiences know and love come to spectacular life in Disney’s live-action adaptation “Beauty and the Beast,” a stunning, cinematic event celebrating one of the most beloved tales ever told. “Beauty and the Beast” is the fantastic journey of Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a Beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart of the true Prince within.
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Hattie Morahan and Nathan Mack with Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson
Directed by: Bill Condon
Screenplay by: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos