Even though it’s a tale as old as time, Bill Condon (writer of “Chicago,” director of “Dreamgirls”) has retold 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast” in a fresh and exciting way.
As a lifelong Disney fan, I couldn’t wait to sit down in the theater and sing along with Belle, the Beast and Gaston once more, simultaneously admiring Belle and watching her love story unfold. I got tickets for the earliest showing on Thursday night, bracing myself for the re-enactment of my second favorite Disney movie – besides “The Little Mermaid” of course.
And honestly, I wasn’t disappointed.
This live-action remake is lavish and stunning, offering the same sense of nostalgia that the live-action “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella” brought to viewers recently.
“Beauty and the Beast” centers on Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, witty and strong woman who is imprisoned in a castle after taking her father’s place. Within the castle resides a prince-turned-beast (Dan Stevens) and his enchanted staff. His staff includes Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe and Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza – all transformed into material versions of their jobs by an enchantress.
Through song, dance, metaphors and discoveries, the Beast must learn the meaning of true love as Belle tries to look past his hairy appearance and raging troubles to discover his good side.
While this new, contemporary spin on the movie follows the original film closely, the cast’s ability to modernize the music, crack jokes and bring emotion has added to the original’s legacy instead of detracting from it.
One thing the film does extremely well is the relationship between Belle and the Beast, as the two are trapped in the castle for opposing reasons. Belle unselfishly took her father’s spot as a prisoner, while the Beast only cares about himself. Their chemistry evolves throughout the movie as they learn from each other in ways neither of them foresaw. And that’s what makes their romance so unique.
In many Disney movies, the story beats are similar. Girl meets boy. Villain stands in their way. Girl and boy figure it out. Everything is hunky dory in the end, and they live happily ever after. While this formula is used in “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s not automatic. Belle isn’t pining after the Beast, and the Beast has to earn her trust and love instead of getting it handed to him. Although it takes two hours for them to reach their “happily ever after,” it takes sacrifice and understanding to get there.
Another classic Disney ingredient is the hallmark of catchy, great songs. Even though the movie added a few new songs, the sentimental performances were colorful, bright and joyful. With Alan Menken, the composer on the original movie, returning for this remake, the soundtrack this time did not fall short of living up to expectations.
While the original songs are still great, the most impressive redo was the “Be Our Guest” cover, where animation, color and fireworks blended together for lively fun sung entirely by household items. It had me singing along and tapping my feet, wanting to get up and dance at the screening.
Another Disney staple is the villains, with Gaston (Luke Evans) being one of the most conceited, stuck up and ignorant characters to ever grace a Disney production. Evans portrayed the fervent bachelor in a way that made me disgusted by him. His massive ego, backstabbing tendencies and memorable song about – you guessed it – himself really brought his character to life in a way that the animated movie hadn’t before.
While the 2017 “Beauty and the Beast” has some improvements over its predecessor, there were also parts it could have honestly done without.
Considering the controversy surrounding Gaston’s sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) being Disney’s first openly gay character, his gags came off forced most of the time. As great as Gad was, his lines seemed unnatural in so many ways. Whether it was the awkward, long hug between him and Gaston to his somewhat silly “I’ve decided to switch sides” line, he was trying too hard to make LeFou different.
Another flaw was the animation of the Beast. From the moment I saw the first poster with the Beast’s face, all I saw was a demon-looking buffalo instead of the large, dog-like beast from the animated version. While it may not seem like much, the Beast is one of the main characters of the movie and their haphazard ways of making the Beast seem real could have been improved.
While it’s hard to make a 9-foot-tall character with a tail, sharp teeth and human tendencies seem real, look at previous technical accomplishments. Jon Favreau’s “Jungle Book” is almost entirely animals created on an L.A. sound stage. While the Beast wasn’t that bad in comparison, it certainly wasn’t Favreau standards.
Let’s be honest. This version almost cloned the original. And while the original will always hold a special place in my heart, the best thing Bill Condon could have done was stick to that story and build upon everything else about it.
Despite its problems, Disney reinvented this classic in a better way than we could have ever imagined. It makes studying for exams and pulling all nighters not as bad when you can relive a part of your childhood in a theater near you.
Featured Image: Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens) reenact the classic ballroom dance in “Beauty and the Beast.” Walt Disney Pictures.