While Disney’s, “Beauty and the Beast” may not be quite “as old as time,” since its release in 1991 it’s become truly cherished by many. So, to say that the stakes were high for the live-action revival doesn’t quite seem to cover it.
To slightly misquote Belle (Emma Watson), “This is the [classic movie] of my childhood.” It is the part of the makeup of an entire generation who grew up loving this bookworm non-princess. So, I’m pleased to say this reimagination will not disappoint the fans of the original film. In fact, I’d venture to say they’ll delight in the many questions it answers, and If you don’t know what questions I’m referring to, you’re probably not a millennial. So let me enlighten you…
There are a few gaps/unexplained premises/heroic feats of strength and truly minor but well-known moments in the classic film that have for many years gone unanswered…until now. And to be clear, we ask these questions because we love this movie.
I won’t spell out all of the “problems” from the original that were addressed (Zer covered quite a few in her post on the subject), but they ranged from the big questions like: “Who is this sadistic enchantress doling out overkill punishments for 11-year-old brats?” and “How does no one in this village seem to know there’s a castle just down the road?” To little things like: “Why isn’t the castle staff just a little bit more peeved that the curse landed them with no hands?” and “Why is Chip the only cup child allowed out of the cabinet?”
Putting nostalgia-driven expectations aside, it’s an odd premise to bring into the real world, but Disney has done it beautifully. From the heartbreaking prologue to the final credits this movie is visually stunning. The magical inhabitants of the castle are a marvel to behold and their master is a masterclass in motion capture and some incredible animation.
A live-action translation called for a touch more humanity in all of its characters and that was achieved in many ways. Moments like “Days in the Sun” a new song that allows the castle servants a moment to mourn the lives they’ve lost and even provided a bit more back story for our Beast (Dan Stevens). Then there’s Gaston (Luke Evans) whose animated version is driven almost entirely by narcissism. In the real world, he’s much more beastly, making him a true villain. In fact, there is much about this movie that is darker than its predecessor, but it’s all with a purpose, and nothing is too grizzly (it still has a PG rating).
But truth be told, this tale is just as much about the music as the story, and all of the classic songs, as well as a few new ones, are back in this adaptation. Let’s start at the very beginning with the prologue which includes a new song “Auria” featuring the incredible vocals of the incomparable Audra McDonald. It’s a brief, extravagant number that sets the scene.
Fans of the film know that the true opening of the story is “Belle” where we meet our heroine and the townspeople. Seeing this beloved number come to life again is a mesmerizing, magical moment.
Josh Gad and Luke Evans as LeFou and Gaston have some of the best chemistry in the movie (not to knock Belle and the Beast) and “Gaston” is the moment where they both shine their brightest.
Of course, “Be Our Guest” is a spectacular (spectacular) affair performed with pizazz (and an occasionally wandering accent) by the luminescent Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) with a few easter eggs thrown in for the musical theater fans (just like this review). And if you’re not dying laughing watching Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) try to join the production, I don’t know what to tell you.
On to the title track, Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) delivers this classic tune with just as much charm as the original. And no, I haven’t covered all of the songs, but they’re there and they’re wonderful.
But before I move on, I have to address the chatter around the singing voice of Ms. Watson as Belle. For my part, I think her voice matches the role perfectly, just like the rest of her performance, she’s incredibly sweet and smart. Opposite Dan Stevens as the Beast, the two of them bring a nuance to this unconventional relationship that’s not in the original. Some of that is situational, with small shifts in the plot, but their performances embrace the awkward of it and sail right on by with a rather adorable outcome.
It’s not a perfect film, although it’s “off” moments felt to me like they would play perfectly on stage (perhaps a revival?). What makes this movie work is its sense of humor, joy, and incredible respect for its roots without being a carbon copy. It’s a delightful, beautiful tribute to this “tale as old as time” and a reminder that while this world may come with its fair share of beasts, it makes the beauty that much more special.