What It’s About:
A familiar enchanted fairy tale is transformed into a sumptuous spectacle in Disney’s live-action remake of its landmark animated film, “Beauty and the Beast.”
The first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar premiered 26 years ago, and with its luscious Alan Menken-Howard Ashman score, was transformed into a Broadway musical in 1994. The stage version, beloved world-wide, is the 10th longest-running Broadway musical of all-time.
The new movie, using 21st century technology to create a grander scale production, is patterned after the stage show.
Even with the extravagant sets and bigger canvas, the work’s gorgeous music is and always will be the standout. “Belle,” “Gaston,” and the title song remain rousing renditions, while “Be Our Guest” is the splashy show-stopping number everyone expects it to be.
Menken-Ashman’s original eight songs are featured, as well as new songs by Menken and Tim Rice, and some of the late Ashman’s lyrics that were cut from the film. The Beast’s new song “Evermore” is powerfully delivered. Not all songs from the stage musical, such as “Home,” made the cut.
The original French tale, penned in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, has endured because of its message that beauty lies within, and its appealing characters. How can a provincial girl fall in love with a spoiled prince who was cursed to become a monster?
They make it work, and imbue charm and realism to the romance. The movie delves more into the back stories of their families and upbringing to explain the characters. And there are more enchanted household staff members this time around.
The cast is well-suited for their roles, with Emma Watson (Hermione in the “Harry Potter” series) strong as a fiercely independent and smart young woman, Belle. It’s a more well-rounded portrayal, and like the recent “Moana,” shows Disney’s commitment to empowering their heroines for modern times.
Luke Evans (”The Girl on the Train”) makes muscular, macho narcissist Gaston more villainous and an even bigger jerk. Dan Stevens (”Downton Abbey”) benefits from more witty lines as the Beast — he did the performance in motion capture.
Josh Gad (”Frozen”) plays LeFou as smarter than his boss, Gaston, a departure from the usual fool portray. As for the whole gay character controversy, it is blown way out of proportion. In one of those 18th century group dances, he moves on to find his partner a guy. It’s a brief scene that lasts a mere few seconds. Seriously.
Nice to see Kevin Kline as Belle’s eccentric dad Maurice. The St. Louis native won two Tony Awards for musical theater early in his career, and good that he’s back in that genre.
Old pros Ian McKellen, as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson, as Mrs. Potts, add impeccable timing and class to their voice-over work, and Ewan McGregor (”Moulin Rouge”) will make everyone smile as jaunty candelabra Lumiere.
Belle, in the iconic yellow gown, and the spiffed up, more human Beast, dancing in the ballroom scene sends hearts a fluttering just like always.
It’s a tale as old as time that still resonates, no matter how many times one has seen it.
What Doesn’t Work:
The additions are not all necessary, and seem to pad an already long movie. This live-action remake is a full 45 minutes longer than the original animated feature.
Some of it is frightening for young ones — namely, the ferocious wolves in the woods.
Beauty and the Beast
Stars: Three and a half
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Rated: PG for some action violence, peril and fighting images