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What is it that makes Disney’s original Beauty and the Beast so special? I asked myself that on the way to the theater yesterday and found that answer is actually quite complicated. Like many, I consider the movie a masterpiece of an animated film and one of Disney’s best animated features ever made. It may not be my favorite, but I’d be a fool to not see how impressive a film that really was. I believe the reason we all feel this way about it is that it perfected the Disney princess story in a way that hadn’t been done before. The way it was told, the way it was presented, and the way it wore its animated skin like a glove, is all just a fraction of what made it so beloved to this day.
Now here we are 16 years later to revisit the tale as old as time in a new way. Disney’s been in the market of retelling their classic films through live action — this following in the footsteps of Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book among others. This isn’t their first or last attempt at this trend, but the stakes seemed to be pretty high for this particular retelling. I mean, how does Disney expect to capture that unique magic a second time? Could this movie live up to, or even surpass, the masterpiece of old?
Beauty and the Beast is a live action retelling of Disney’s 1991 animated classic film by the same name, based on the French fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.
A long time ago, there lived a handsome, young prince named… um… and he lived a fantastic life until he is visited by an elderly woman who begs for food in exchange for a rose. Being as arrogant, selfish, and shallow as he was, he turned the woman away for her unappealing looks. The woman then reveals herself as a sorcerer who places a curse on the castle, turning the workers into furniture and the prince into a hideous beast. The spell will last forever unless the Beast can find someone to love and love him in return. A few years later, a beautiful girl named Belle comes to the castle to save her father from the Beast’s imprisonment by taking his place. Could Belle be the one to help Beast break the spell?
Odds are that you have already seen the animated movie before, and therefore know exactly what’s going to happen in the story. Suffice it to say, there aren’t any big changes story-wise that will take audiences for a loop this time around. All the major beats of the original are here and accounted here. Does that make this the carbon copy of the original many were fearing? No, not really. Like Cinderella before it, Beauty and the Beast tells the same exact tale with a few minor alterations, extra scenes, and new musical numbers added to create a very different movie. To that end, the film succeeds at differentiating itself from the original in a very good way.
It’s funny to think about how a few changes can actually make the movie feel that much more fresh. In fact, I found that this movie made me realize how, shall we say, imperfect the original film is. Every added scene, song, or bit of dialogue only serves to make the story that much better, fleshing out certain character relationships, increasing emotional impact, or bridging gaps in the original you didn’t even think were there. For example, there are several scenes dedicated to the two forming their relationship, showing you why the two fall for each other and what they have in common. Through some added dialogue, you get a better sense of who Gaston is. They even expand certain character’s backstories and give answers to longstanding questions such as why the castle workers were punished alongside the Beast. Hell, I can already find one change that nips one popular fan theory in the butt (won’t tell you which one, though). Best of all, none of these additions ever come across as unnecessary or padding. They actually fit quite naturally with the original story.
As for the parts carried over from the original, you’ll find improvement in this area, too. I’m so thankful that this didn’t turn into a word-for-word remake of the original. The actual occurrences of lifted dialogue are slim, and are only limited to the major quotes. You’ll know it when you see it. Though, for most other scenes, the dialogue is masterfully modified to to make this film feel fresh and further add new layers to the overall story. The dialogue is also surprisingly mature compared to the original. People talk like adults in this movie, and some of the conversations seem to have an added weight to them. This makes sense when you consider how this film is a bit darker than the previous version. Although, there’s an added sense of wit to the dialogue as well. Seriously, I actually laughed quite a few times during this movie.
On the whole, I’d say that this version is definitely an improvement in the writing department. Everything this movie adds only makes the story feel deeper and more impactful.
On top of the film being a narrative improvement over the original, it may also be a visual improvement. This movie is absolutely beautiful at all times. Every scene is treated with a meticulous attention to detail to make sure there’s never an improperly captured moment. Not a single crevice of the set is poorly lit. Not one poorly shot scene. Not one bad piece of editing. No scene is ever uncharacteristically dark, nor is there one too bright. No visual effect appears too fake, too flashy, too choppy, or too distracting.
This version uses its live action production to recapture the same general feel and charm which made the original so great. You’ll notice how the film likes to utilize panning shots, wide-angle shots, and panoramic transitions to increase many scenes’ appeal. The movie isn’t one to cut to other shots when it doesn’t have to. Instead, the film will simply let scenes roll as if being attempted in a single take; even when it clearly isn’t. The result is a very smooth progression of the story, as well as a way to show off how identical the set design is to the animated film. It also gives the film a somewhat dreamlike feel, which matches the enchanted castle setting, produces more weight to the emotional moments, and contrasts it from the scenes of the French village which employs a slightly more edited style.
Best of all, while it does recapture the spirit of the animated film, it doesn’t go too far by making it a live action cartoon. Movements by our human actors are natural, and the use of practical sets and realistic costumes results in a more grounded reality, even when the CG characters come into play.
While the film does have a decent amount of practical effects placed in, a fairly big percentage of the film is shrouded in CGI. This is true of a few scenes and all bit 5 of the film’s main characters. Thankfully, the effects are excellently woven into the film, and may even be some of Disney’s best CG work after last year’s Jungle Book. The Beast’s design is an impressive bit of CG by means of motion capture fitting in seamlessly against Emma Watson, to the point where you don’t realize he’s CG after a while. Though it’s the models of the castle staff turned furniture that are the most clever effects in the film. At first I wasn’t a fan of the furniture looking too realistic aside from a face and moving limbs, but that all changed when I saw them in action. The clever mix of actual props with aftereffects really brought it home for me. Hell, my favorite visual scene in the movie, the “Be Our Guest” scene, heavily utilizes these character models.
Speaking of the characters, you can rest assured that all of them are as masterfully portrayed this time around as they were in 1991.
Starting with the Beauty herself, Emma Watson proves that she was the perfect choice for the role of Belle. Not only is the resemblance almost uncanny, but Watson was also able to replicates Belle’s intellect, kindness, and compassion seamlessly. There is a minor difference in her portrayal compared to that of Paige O’Hara’s, though. Watson’s portrayal is perhaps a bit more combative and brave tan the original, perhaps due to her increased development this time around. She also doesn’t come off as too helpless as she takes more proactive steps towards her goals, specifically during one scene that doesn’t appear in the original. If you ask me, these are very positive changes that make the character even more likable.
Then there’s Dan Stevens as the Beast, who is simply phenomenal. Again, while on the whole faithful to the original portrayal of the character, there are a few minor tweaks in Stevens version compared to Robby Benson. This is mainly due to the new version’s age of being cursed. Everyone knows how the Beast is more akin to the savage in the beginning but grows more human over time, and that still remains here. However, this Beast is given a newfound sense of intellect and sophistication the original didn’t have. This new character trait comes into play when he and Belle begin to form their relationship, and it provides a good basis of why the two are a good match for each other; it’s based more on compatibility than proximity, which I loved.
Our unlikely villain is played by Luke Evans. Evans is fantastic in this portrayal of Gaston. I’ll admit that I was initially skeptical of how well Evans would be in this role, merely due to Gaston requiring a very specific and careful performance to get right. It didn’t help that there’s a slight difference in physicality and voice. However, I was quickly proven wrong. I loved what Evans added to the character, from his short fuse to his cunning. I also like how the character is more relatable at first only to gradually show his true, despicable nature over time. It’s one of the most enjoyable performances in the movie.
Also enjoyable were the vocal cast of the houseware servants. Each character is just as fun, lovable, and charming as before, whether it’s Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, or Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts. All of them do wonderful work and nearly identical performances to the original cast. In addition, they even add a new main piece of furniture to the ensemble, Stanley Tucci as a composer turned piano (harpsichord to be exact), and expand the role of Lumière’s feather duster lover Plumette, both of which I enjoyed.
Finally, speaking of expanded roles, the film also gives more development to two characters: Maurice (Kevin Kline) and LeFou (Josh Gad). Maurice is given a little bit more backstory this time around that definitely adds a layer to this character, and they also give him some new interplay with Gaston which make for great scenes. Additionally, Kline’s take on the character is made a bit less bumbling in favor of a more grounded and straight performance that makes you feel for him even more. As for LeFou, he’s also given a lot more screentime in order to expand his character. He’s much more flamboyant this time around (for reasons you already know), but he’s also more sympathetic. Gad brings a morality and dignity to the character that isn’t seen prior in addition to being the comedic and wormy friend to Gaston we know him to be. In fact, LeFou’s chemistry with Evans is one of the big standout features of the film.
This would rightfully be a deal-breaker for many people had the iconic musical numbers worsened in this new version, which is why the filmmakers really brought it for this movie. This soundtrack is magnificent! Every song you know and love is properly and faithfully adapted from their original counterparts, each just as good as the originals at worst. My personal favorite recreation was of “Gaston”, which is also one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
But what about the movie’s new songs? Well, it may be a bit too early to tell if they’ll be Disney classics, but I can definitely say that all of them work well in the movie. Not every new song is fantastic nor even necessary in the case of one or two of them, but I’d be lying if I aid they didn’t add something to the story. My personal favorite of these sings is a song given to the Beast called “Evermore”. That song is actually really nice, and makes the character even more sympathetic and really touched me.
The musical numbers for both old and new songs are also very entertaining. The original numbers are faithfully recreated and added upon in its new live action form, all with excellent choreography and even better visual appeal. As I said before, “Be Our Guest” is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and definitely my favorite musical moment. The scene is given much more to look at with tons of extra color and energy. “Gaston” is also another really good musical scene with perhaps the best choreography in the film. However, if I were to nitpick for just a second, I found something a bit off about how “Belle” was presented. Don’t get me wrong, the song is great and the set design is exquisite. It’s just something about the way it was shot that felt off to me. Maybe it was just a bit too slow-moving for my taste, but that’s just me.
I’m happy to say that the tale as old as time is just as good in 2017 as it was in 1991, just as beautiful in live action as it was in live action, and just as enchanting a second time as it was after the first. The live action Beauty and the Beast is a fantastic movie through and through, with even more of what you already loved placed in. The things that made the story so classic in the original are made even better here, and the new additions only make the story even more compelling and the world even more real. The acting is fantastic all around, and the songs of new and old are masterfully done and fun to relive/experience for the first time. It may not be perfect and won’t please everybody, but this may be the best live action adaptation Disney has ever done. I look forward to seeing more excellent remakes like this as well as experiencing this again more times in the future.
Disney fans, and especially fans of the original movie, should definitely plan on seeing this film in the theater. Even if you haven’t seen the original film yet, you’ll be in decently safe hand watching this one first and the the original as you would vice versa. Those who hated the original film, though won’t find much here that will change their mind, but if you’re problems stem mostly from character development, than it’s still worth a shot. This is also a perfect film for couples who want something romantic to watch. For parents looking to bring their kids to this movie, be warned that you should probably show your kids the original film first to see if they’ll enjoy this film. It is a bit darker after all and may not grasp their attention. Besides, they should see the original anyway.
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!