Beauty and the Beast Review: Disney at it’s Best!
Just like the song states, Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time. The original French fairy tale was published in 1740 and has been made into several films and television series. The best-known version of this beloved fairy tale is the 1991 Disney animated classic. The 1991 film was hailed as a masterpiece by critics and audiences alike and went on to win several Academy Awards. Now, 26 years later, after the success of many live-action retellings such as Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast has returned for a whole new generation to enjoy.
This modern day retelling of this iconic fairy tale was written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky. The screenwriting duo does such a marvelous job at staying true to the 1991 film while updating the material to feel fresh and relevant. As soon as the film begins, you immediately get sucked back into this world and can’t help but fall in love with the story, characters, and music all over again. The entire setup for how Dan Stevens becomes the Beast is so incredibly executed. Seeing Belle for the first time as she sings her way through her small village feels as though it was ripped directly from the animated version. This resulted in a huge smile on my face throughout Belle’s introduction.
Throughout the entire film, I found myself to be fascinated by the visuals and costumes. Jacqueline Durran, as well as the rest of the costume and wardrobe department, did such an incredible job bringing the outfits from the animated film to life. The costume design is spectacular with such amazing attention to detail. It’s hard to deny that Disney’s wardrobe and makeup department are some of the best in the industry.
Needless to say, Disney has been leading the way regarding visual achievement in film, especially with their live action ones. I was blown away by the visuals in The Jungle Book, Alice Through The Looking Glass, and Doctor Strange in 2016. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was watching those films on the big screen. I find it remarkable how far technology has come and how a studio like Disney continues to pave the way for new visual technologies.
While not all the visuals in Beauty in the Beast are flawless, the Be Our Guest scene blew me away. I seriously can’t even begin to comprehend how Bill Condon and his team pulled off that scene due to the wide array of visual elements that occur throughout that sequence. If you remember that scene in 1991 animated classic which was incredible in itself, this one is easily 100 times more impressive. I strongly believe that this scene visually will not be topped by any other film in 2017.
While the visuals and wardrobe play a vital role in creating the world of Beauty and The Beast, the biggest concern for most going into the film was always the casting choices. I am happy to report that the entire film’s cast is spot on with, of course, a few standout performances. Starting with the leads, Emma Watson makes Belle her own while still being loyal to the character created by Disney in 1991. Watson represents a modern version of Belle which shows her as a strong female that is well-read and headstrong. I love the fact that Belle isn’t a helpless victim but rather someone who stands up for herself and isn’t afraid of confrontation.
Dan Stevens does an excellent job playing the Beast. While I feel some of his motion capture scenes early on were a little off, I do believe that Stevens embraced the material and delivered another exceptional performance. Stevens and Watson bounce over one another quite nicely, and I love that the writers gave the both these characters a lot more character development. The scene where the two discuss various books helps to build mutual interest and shape their relationship leading up to the film’s conclusion.
The supporting voice cast is magical with Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth being the notable standouts. I think the entire voice cast did such an incredible job bringing these animated characters to life while tweaking them just enough to make them stand out on their own. I would even dare to say that these actors did such a great job with their performances that most of which are on-par with the original voice actors from the original.
While Gaston and Lefou are considered secondary characters in both the 1991 film as well as this one, I found these two characters to be the real stars of this film. I don’t think that anyone else could have brought these characters to life as perfectly as Luke Evans and Josh Gad did. These two actors, without a doubt in my mind, turned Gaston and Lefou into memorable characters that are far more interesting than the ones in the animated version. Evan’s take on Gaston feels as though he is poking fun at people obsessed with appearance. I was nervous Evans wouldn’t be able to pull off the role but he nailed it. Whenever Gad comes on-screen, he steals the film from everyone else. He owns the role of Lefou and makes the character charming and lovable in his own way. Gad and Evan’s Gaston musical number is easily the most entertaining scene in the entire film.
While it was important to turn Belle into a strong female character, the idea of turning Lefou into a gay character was a bold move by the writers. I give the folks at Disney a lot of credit for not being afraid to introduce themes like this into their films. I think it is so important that family films help spark conversations early on. I applauded Zootopia last year for all subtle references to important topics such as race and now introducing a homosexual character into the mix should continue to spark a lot of conversation between parents and their children.
One final member of the cast that I think needs to be discussed is Kevin Kline as Maurice. I didn’t even know Kline was in the film so I was pleasantly surprised to see him in the film. I love that this new version of the story developed a real relationship between Maurice and Belle. Kline was a great father figure and I really love the chemistry between him and Watson. I love that the backstory of Belle’s mom was discussed and developed. It really helped to shape Maurice as a father who was looking out for his daughter while trying to protect her.
It is very clear while watching Beauty and the Beast that Bill Condon was a huge fan of the original and wanted to capture it’s essence while making some changes to make the film his own. There are a lot of scenes in his film that weren’t part of the original. Some of these new scenes help build the characters while others just update the story so that it feels relevant for a 2017 audience. Condon has such an incredible vision of bringing this world to life.There are certain points in the film where it feels like you are watching the actual cartoon being brought to life while other scenes feel fresh and new. It is a perfect mixture of homage and originality.
Alan Menken works his songwriting magic by reinventing some of his classic songs while adding in several new songs into the mix. Menken is a legend and is hands down one of the best in the business. The musical numbers in this film prove that. I was blown away by the new songs especially Evermore which is sung so beautifully by Stevens. The classic songs also hold up especially Be Our Guest and Emma Thompson singing Beauty and the Beast which was just pure Disney magic.
All in all, Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful live-action retelling of an iconic fairy tale. Disney has developed a winning formula by hiring talented directors that can take their beloved classics and turn them into live action masterpieces. Beauty and the Beast ranks up there with some of the best live-action offerings released by Disney so far. The music is magical, the cast is spot-on, and the visuals and costume design continue to impress. This is another great example of how you recreate a classic while remaining true to the source material while updating it for a new generation. I can’t wait to see what they do with Mary Poppins Returns and Dumbo.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for Beauty and the Beast is an 8.5 out of 10.