Fans (and who isn’t, really) of the 1991 original animated Disney classic, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ should be blown away by the fine-tuned detail on display in the new live action adaptation in theaters now. All of the original Alan Menken songs are present and staged with the aid of computer effects. The costumes evoke the iconic looks of the hand drawn characters and the ornate sets are fully realized. The actors all embody the characters, bringing them to life with care. Perhaps then it is perfectly understandable that it also feels like a retread of a film that can still be experienced as the Oscar-nominated masterpiece that it is.
Unlike the Disney live action version of its’ ‘Cinderella’ from a few years ago, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ is a more recently established movie with more modern sensibilities, a ‘princess’ who was not beholden to landing the prince, and magical musical numbers refined in the resurgent Disney style that started with ‘The Little Mermaid’. While the former created a timeless fable with nods to the animated original, B&tB is almost slavishly beholden to its’ source. Disney understands that major deviations to such a beloved film would result in lower box office and maybe even tarnish its’ legacy, so they go the smart (and artistically safe) route, pouring all efforts into bringing everything about the musical to wondrous life.
Emma Watson, perfectly cast, plays Belle in all her yearning glory, deftly handling complex work against the various computer generated characters she interacts with in the intricately designed castle set of her ‘jailer,’ the unnamed Beast himself. Dan Stevens (‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Legion’) gives him his voice, as well as convincingly aids in taking the cantankerous character through his story arc from foppish, shallow prince (a new elaborately staged opening addition to the story that does flesh out the proceedings) to a man deserving of sympathy. Luke Evans and Josh Gad both do solid work in covering the literal and figurative cartoons of Gaston and LeFou, respectively, especially in the central tavern-set and ‘Kill the Beast’ musical numbers. The various name actors and actresses breathing life into the inanimate objects also do respectful renditions of showstoppers ‘Be Our Guest’ and the titular classic, one of the greatest Disney songs in the canon.
Director Bill Condon has experience in bringing musicals to the big screen as the director of ‘Dreamgirls’ and a writer of ‘Chicago, and he uses a workmanlike, assured hand here as well. Tasked with bringing the animated classic to life, he and his talented cast and crew approached the adaptation with great care and reverence. It’s there in each performance, every elaborately designed set, the special digital effects that ground the various enchanted objects as real, palpable personalities and the Beast himself, whose programmers infuse his facial expressions and body language with multiple dimensions in order to effectively create real romance. For all their efforts, the film will be rewarded with enormous success, as audiences will fall in love with the subject matter all over again, but the fact still remains that the original animated film, the only animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture, still holds up and still reigns supreme . . .
Directed By: Bill Condon
Written By: Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos
Running Time: 129 min.
* * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- B