Aside from big box office grosses, reimagining an untouchable classic can be a thankless endeavor. Disney, however, has found massive commercial and critical success in translating its own animated library into live-action blockbusters like Cinderella and The Jungle Book. Now it’s time for the world to see Disney’s live-action attempt at perhaps the most untouchable of all, Beauty and the Beast. Arguably the studio’s greatest animated achievement, the 1991 film earned a Best Picture Oscar® nomination back when only five films could be included in the category.
The animated film has been revered for an entire generation, with parents now primed and ready to take their own kids to see the new take on a film they’ve worshipped sine they were in single digits. The 2017 Beauty and the Beast carries the burden of expectations that might be impossible for any film to live up to and yet it does just that. The new film does not surpass the original, but under the direction of Bill Condon, it gets a lot closer than I ever thought it could.
Condon’s first victory came by way of his superb casting choices. Emma Watson is absolutely perfect as the titular beauty, Belle. She is wise beyond her years and ahead of her time. Her spirit is full of strength and kindness with several heroic moments with the best of all of them being a remarkably simple act—teaching a young girl to read. I don’t really know or care just how much help she got in the recording studio, but Watson sounds incredible when it’s time for Belle to belt those classic songs.
Dan Stevens is appropriately intimidating and awkward as the Beast. He sings well enough, but it’s Stevens presence that makes him so great in the role. The screenplay, by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, also helps Stevens out by overcoming the Stockholm syndrome ickiness that can take the romance right out of the story.
This is not the story of a bad guy being a good guy when a woman just takes the time to get to know him. This is, among other things, the story of a bad guy who really is bad and has been for some time. The Beast’s portion of the plot is a tale of redemption, as he’s not worthy of being loved and must change. Condon uses the extra runtime that comes with live-action over animation in order to flesh out the Beast’s story to make the romance between Belle and the Beast feel a little more genuine even if it does develop at the accelerated pace that comes with fairytales.
Watson and Stevens make a beautiful couple, but they have genuine rivals in Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad) for the film’s most effective pairing. Much has been made of LeFou, but the matter of fact nature of his inclusion as a gay character coming to terms with his sexuality is what makes any potential statement that can be drawn from it more profound. Gad can steal a scene at the very end with his delivery, but even he can’t overshadow Evans, who is just the right mix of despicable and charming as Gaston.
All of the Beast’s cursed staff are well cast. Ewan McGregor leads the way as Lumière, but Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, and Audra McDonald are all great as Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Madame Garderobe, respectively. Kevin Kline hands in a terrific turn as Belle’s father, Maurice. The new film’s effort to expand on the relationship between Belle and Maurice is an excellent addition to the story.
The addition of an outstanding troupe of live actors certainly helps, but what makes this Beauty and the Beast worth experiencing again and again in theaters is a romance that’s every bit as magical as the one between its title characters. Condon brings classic production design together with state-of-the-art visual effects to make his film a non-stop feast for the eyes. Production designer Sarah Greenwood, costume designer Jacqueline Durran, and visual effects supervisors Kyle McColluch and Kelly Port are all going to be favorites for Oscar® nominations.
The musical numbers “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” serve as testaments to classic and modern approaches to filmmaking, respectively. Alan Menken’s iconic songs look and sound great throughout the film, and the new tracks feel right at home. Of the new material, the Beast’s “Evermore” ballad stands out.
Beauty and the Beast is an engaging cinematic experience from start to finish. It is sure to captivate audiences of all ages just as its animated predecessor did a generation ago. A seemingly impossible task has been accomplished via old-fashioned craftsmanship, modern effects artistry, a more than capable cast, and a director who was able to bring them all together in an extraordinary way. There really is something there that wasn’t there before and everything that was there still is.
Beauty and the Beast is in theaters March 17.
For more, you can watch the Superhero News video review of the film below!