Beauty and The Beast
Director: Bill Condon
Screenwriter: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios
Rated PG | 129 Minutes
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Never let it be said that Walt Disney Studios does not put any effort into their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. It’s easy to assume that they are simply trying to milk a lucrative trend that they have created, especially with the success of films like Cinderella and The Jungle Book, and to a lesser extent Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland. So it only makes sense that Disney continue that tradition with a live-action adaptation of Beauty and The Beast. But unlike the aforementioned titles, Beauty and The Beast is so much closer to its animated counterpart that it feels like a rehash of it just with a few additional scenes for some extra exposition. Plus there are also some new songs from Alan Menken. So the film ends up being more like a musical than any of the other films that came before it.
The only problem is that it’s all those extra scenes act more like filler than actual exposition. All it really does is elongate the film to unnecessary lengths. But there is a very bright side to all of this. The new renditions of the songs are perfect, and even some of the new songs had me swooning for repeat listens. Check out my full review below.
Beauty and the Beast takes place in 18th century France, with a selfish and greedy prince (Dan Stevens) who taxes the surrounding villages unjustly. The prince prides himself by holding lavish parties in his large castle. However, his selfishness finally gets the better of him when an enchantress under the guise of an underprivileged woman asks for shelter and offers a beautiful rose as a token of appreciation. The prince simply laughs and mocks her. Suddenly, the enchantress reveals her true form and casts a curse all over the castle and those who are in it, turning the prince into a hideous beast (also played by Stevens) while those who work for him into living antiques. For the curse to be lifted, the Beast must learn how to love and be loved or forever stay in his hideous form.
Flash forward a few years, and we are introduced to Belle (Emma Watson), who isn’t a normal small town village girl. She loves reading books and sharing her love of reading to little girls, which is practically frowned upon by all, especially the headmaster of an all-boys school. Even though she is seen as that “strange girl,” Belle never conforms to what is perceived as normal, especially to Gaston (Luke Evans) who pines over her but clearly just sees her as another notch on his belt. Unbeknownst to him, his trusty sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad), has feelings for him but just cannot form those words despite buttering up his ego.
But when Maurice (Kevin Kline), Belle’s father, is held captive in the Beast’s castle, Belle comes to his rescue and offers to be imprisoned in her father’s place. Of course, Lumière (Ewan McGregor) sees this as an opportunity to bring the two together, romantically, in hopes that the spell could be broken.
The new Beauty and the Beast has some additional exposition that explains why the Beast has become so selfish and why Belle is the way she is. While it’s nice to get some additional backstory on the two title characters, most of it seems out of place or isn’t earned. It doesn’t feel organic, or maybe that’s because I am so used to the animated film, which had a runtime of 84 minutes. The live-action runs for 129 minutes. Forty-five minutes of extra material that either seems too long or just does nothing for the story as a whole. It makes the entire thing feel like the animated movie just added deleted scenes. However, this doesn’t apply to the music.
There are four brand new songs in the film, three of which act as storytelling devices, helping the characters express their emotions when there is no more words to say. “Evermore” is the clear definition of that as we finally get to hear a song about Beast’s feelings when he let Belle go rescue her father. It’s a moving song that is executed in a way that feels almost like a live-stage musical in terms of performance and camera movement. Stevens has the musical chops to carry the entire song and make audiences shed a tear or two. As for the new renditions of the older songs, well, it’s nice to add a physicality to them. Sure, the animated sequences had somewhat of an exaggeration to them, but the live-action versions is exciting to watch. The choreography and music blend together very well and is a perfect companion piece if watched together with the animated film. It’s hard not to cheer when Lumière starts to sing “Be Our Guest.” The bright colors and dancing tableware comes alive and will probably make someone sing. A lot of that credit has to go to composer Alan Menken for creating the beautiful music and making audiences’ heart sing.
But it is the cast that really brings this thing together. Everyone has such a fantastic chemistry with each other. Watson defines and redefines Belle simultaneously carrying the torch of strong, independent, beautiful, and intelligent women, but also adding rebellion, defiance, and resistance when she teaches a young girl how to read to the dismay of a headmaster and villagers. Stevens also gives a strong performance as the Beast, although it is almost hard to recognize that it is the same voice. Still, to hear him sing “Evermore” and try to match wits with Belle is like watching the animated film. However, Evans and Gad’s chemistry cannot be ignored. It’s simply infectious and a lot of fun to watch.
If anything, the only problem that this film has is that it added too much additional narrative. Sure it is nice to get a little backstory as to how Belle and her father ended up in such a small village or why the Beast was an ungrateful prince before his transformation. But a lot of that could have been widdled down or condensed. Prolonging these backstories is just trying to draw emotional blood from a stone. It didn’t really work. However, all of that is overshadowed by the great music – the new songs are beyond spectacular, and the fantastic chemistry that the cast had with each other. Sets are like a living work of art thanks to production designer Sarah Greenwood making the film feel more tangible. All in all, the film is pretty good and something that is definitely worth a watch on the big screen.