Highly anticipated, this live-action adaptation of the 1991 classic had a lot to live up to. For an example of the impact that film had, here’s a quote from my review of Moana.
“In 1991, I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and it was the first step in my developing love of movies. The animation, the emotional resonance of the story, the music and the characters opened my eyes to the idea that animation is not just kids stuff. These aren’t kids movies. They are films same as anything else.”
This newest film version had 2 tasks that it needed to accomplish. The first was clearly appeal to the nostalgia of the people who had the opportunity to see the original, animated film. The second is to basically justify its existence, because like most remakes of great films, no one asked for it. Well I’m happy to say that the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast manages to accomplish both.
Bill Condon is in the director’s chair for this one. Condon is certainly qualified to helm this material. He wrote and directed another movie musical that is a personal favorite of mine, Dreamgirls. He also wrote the screenplay for the film version of the musical Chicago and directed films in the Twilight Saga.
The animated film worked as both a cinematic and theatrical experience due to the fantastic work of the late Howard Ashman. This film would have to retain the impact of the original while differentiating itself. I believe this was accomplished by making this film more theatrical in terms of a stage experience than a cinematic one. I don’t see this as a negative however. I liked it because it gave a theatre experience even if you haven’t seen the stage show (I have seen it and it’s great).
There are so many elements to break down here. So I’ll take it piece by piece.
I enjoyed the casting choices made for this. Everyone excelled in their performance of the characters. Emma Watson gives us a very independent yet quaint performance to Belle. The only thing I was a huge fan of was her singing. It’s good, yet It sounded like her vocals were played to not dip into her singing weaknesses as opposed to strengths. I do admit however that this is the first time I’ve heard Watson sing. So I clearly may be wrong on this.
There were 2 performances that surprised me. The first was Dan Stevens as The Beast. I am not familiar with this actor, but I felt more of a sense of guilt from the Beast than even in the original. The other is Josh Gad as LeFou. Previously he was just Gaston’s bumbling sidekick, yet here he’s portrayed as a man who may not be totally on the side of the man he calls his friend.
One additional thing I loved that this film did was add little details or backstories to the characters. We are treated to additional elements that shaped the why our 2 main characters are who they are.
The supporting class is rounded out by some notable acting veterans. Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan and Emma Thompson give their own special flair to the characters of Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts. We also have a treat by Kevin Kline giving us a pretty dignified take on Belle’s father Maurice. And of course we mustn’t forget Luke Evans playing one of the boorist of boorish characters in Gaston.
Alan Menken returns to score the film. His work here has a far more grandiose flair than the animated film. It feels much more like a stage show in that regard. I felt it has come full circle. Ashman’s lyrics gave the original its heart and here it’s Menken’s score. If you get the soundtrack just listen to his overture and you’ll know what you are in for.
The animated felt like you were seeing this story unfold across stained glass windows. After all it was part of the prologue. Now the film feels like a series of paintings. Beautiful and vibrant colors highlight even the darkest of setting like the Beast’s castle. The lightning really give prominence to the costuming which is exquisite. Especially in the ballroom scene.
Was this adaptation of the fairy tale needed? I would say no becuase the original animated film is pretty much perfect in my eyes. Yet to see it realized again for cinema is certainly an achievement to commend. We got a more theatrical experience to take in this story. Beauty and the Beast may hit the exact same notes, but it’s difference in presentation make this one of the few remakes that’s earned it’s place on its own merit and not just in conversation with its predecessor.
Final Rating 4/4