Beauty and the Beast is a franchise. There have been so many versions of the original Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve story, including a TV series and a remake of that TV series. Disney produced Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, and now it has come back in live-action. Their animated Beauty and the Beast may be the only version to have actual sequels, during Disney’s straight to video sequel era.
It would be hard to mess up the 1991 Disney version, although I suppose I shouldn’t take it for granted that they didn’t. The fact is, when that music swells, it’s as infectious as it was in 1991. They build up anticipation to the favorite songs “Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and then they deliver. It’s like a CGI Moulin Rouge with lavish, colorful celebration and song.
They make the Beast scary at first with stomping sounds and having him emerge from the shadows. He’s gruff and beastly, which is appropriate as he’s keeping a human being prisoner. With that, there’s further to go to make the Beast sympathetic by the midway point, and damned if they don’t achieve it seamlessly.
Luke Evans is magnificent as Gaston. He’s having fun with the ego and oblivious idiocy of Gaston. That’s something you can play in live-action that wouldn’t come through in animation. If you’re drawing the character, he’s got to be a straight bad guy. But Gaston seems especially relevant now. He starts as a joke, but he takes it too far until he’s going to force his will on the whole village as part of his schtick. Any proof against him is dismissed as “dark magic,” the provincial France equivalent of “fake news.”
With a good 40 minutes on the 1991 film, this Beauty and the Beast may be a tad overlong, but mostly in the early section. There is something to be said for animation’s economical storytelling, but once Belle is at the castle, it moves, and there’s more added to that section than the first act, including new songs, new lyrics in the classic songs and jokes.
We all know the songs from Beauty and the Beast. Some probably know the stage show just as well. There is some new music that doesn’t come from either source, though none are complete songs, just verses here and there. I suppose at least one will qualify for an Original Song Oscar. Anything that hasn’t existed for 26 years stands out, but with Alan Menken on board, they feel like organic expressions of the movie’s tangents. The sound mix makes it hard to hear the lyrics of “Gaston.” I guess we all know the words anyway.
The CGI is very busy to keep up with modern expectations. Chip zips around the mantle and jumps onto the table. The wardrobe speedily overdresses Belle. It works in the climactic battle, though, playing the antics as slapstick comedy until the confrontation with Gaston returns to the appropriate gravitas.
This bodes very well for The Lion King. Let’s hope they get Elton John back so he can win an Oscar for Lion King songs twice!