Disney has taken a tale as old as time and re-imagined it into a refreshing live-action adventure that will delight both fans of the 1991 animated feature and new audiences alike. Amidst the barrage of live-action re-tellings of Disney’s most beloved classics, Beauty and the Beast stands out as the likely fan-favorite, with its star-studded cast, infamous musical numbers, widely familiar characters, and most importantly, its imagery. Bill Conden’s Beauty and the Beast will likely be a box office smash, with excitement among Disney fans and Generation Y’ers.
In any live-action remake, there is a fine line between being identical to the animated film, and straying so far that die-hard fans lose interest. Beauty and the Beast expertly marches this line musically by utilizing all songs from the 1991 release, additional music written for the film, and even songs from the Broadway musical. Much of the un-sung dialogue is identical to the 1991 film as well.
The film’s prologue begins much differently than its 1991 predecessor, telling a somewhat darker and more detailed backstory of a selfish Prince and the Enchantress who curses him to be a beast forever. Though the prologue has a few unexpected changes, it is followed by the beautifully executed large-scale musical number of “Belle” that is true to the original, and helps introduce the remainder of the main characters not featured in the prologue. The songs in the film blend the animated film and musical/unreleased which will keep Beauty and the Beast fans excited and interested.
Overall, the acting performances were better than I had imagined. Emma Watson breathed a youthful and strong-willed determination into her performance of Belle, mirroring the actresses well-known personal passion for women’s rights. Luke Evans and Josh Gad provide a dynamic of juxtaposition as Evans’ Gaston is overly confident, and possibly more obsessed with Belle than his animated counterpart, and Gad’s LeFou struggles with his morals and his relationship with Gaston. As a huge fan of Josh Gad, I found this casting and character development to be delightful, though with the success of Frozen it’s also easy to sometimes picture Olaf singing. Kevin Klein as Maurice is warm and more involved with his daughter than in the animated film, proving to be a bit less “crazy” than before.
SPOILER ALERT – Though hopefully you have seen or heard this story in some way, shape, or form in the last 26 years, I was delighted to see the voice actors for the also-cursed castle staff of Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) emerge as themselves again at the end of the film. It serves as both a joyful happy-ending, as well as a curtain call of sorts.
The titular song and ballroom scene were the most lacking of the film’s musical numbers. Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts delivers a lackluster and awkwardly cadenced performance, inappropriate for the waltz being danced. In contrast, the ballroom scene in the 1991 film was revered as a technical and stunning feat in its grandeur. Both the ballroom itself and the famous yellow/gold ballgown Belle dawns for this defining moment are underwhelming in comparison to the rest of the scenery and costuming throughout the film.
The differences in this re-telling, based on the characters’ family background and the nature of the Beast’s curse, appear to have stemmed from an effort to complete the story and fill in plot holes. However they left me a bit confused and wishing they had been more developed.
Overall, the CGI was stunning; the acting and singing were all you could hope for and more, with amazing execution. As someone who is a Disney fan, I was wowed by this re-telling. Though Beauty and the Beast was not my favorite Disney Animated feature, I felt this live-action edition was impressive, emotional, grown-up in taste, and will surely be a film remembered as a Disney classic.