Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

THE TALE AS OLD AS TIME RETURNS


 

La Belle et la Bête or more commonly known in English as “Beauty and the Beast” was originally created by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. First published in 1740, Beauty and the Beasts would then be rewritten, republished, and reimagined for years, but still keep the fundamental elements of its original source material, telling the story of a young girl named Belle who falls in love with a beast. Adding to those countless reprints of the original story, Beauty and the Beast as also been adapted to theatrical stage plays, television productions, and feature films. However, none is more famous (and beloved by many) than Disney’s 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast. Directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, Disney’s 30th animated tale brought animated fun and majestic beauty to their retelling of Beauty and the Beast, finding charm, humor, drama, and musical heart to bring this classic fairy tale to life. Naturally, the movie was met with success and was even nominated for five academy award (winning Best Song and Best Original Score), including Best Picture, becoming the first animated film to be nominated in that category until 2010 with Toy Story 3. Even today, Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast still regarded as a true masterpiece by many as one of Disney’s four animated features during the late 80s / early 90s (i.e. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King). Now, as continuing the recent trend of reimagining their animated films, Walt Disney Studios and director Bill Condon are ready to invite viewers to return to the enchanted castle in the live-action presentation Beauty and Beast. Does this up-to-date film still have that “tale as old as time” magic or does something get lost from its original 2D narrative to its live-action adaptation? 

THE STORY


Living in a small and quaint village with her widowed father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), Belle (Emma Watson) dreams of a free life, filling her time with books and personal achievements without the aid of husband, which makes her a target for gossip by the people in her small-minded community. Hoping to win her hand in marriage is the vain and brutish Gaston (Luke Evans), who’s joined by his tagalong pal Le Fou (Josh Gad), using his blunt presences in attempt to coax Belle into a romance. While on a special delivery, Maurice gets lost in the woods and end ups in a mysterious castle, home to ferocious creature “The Beasts” (Dan Stevens) and his enchanted staff, including Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), and her son, Chip (Nathan Mack) among many others. Imprisoned by the formable ruler, Maurice is soon discovered and freed by Belle, who takes his place, trying to find rhyme and reason behind her monstrous captor. Believing Belle’s unexpected presence is to help aid them break a curse upon them (connected to an enchanted rose which has begun to wilt), the enchanted staff of the castle try persuade their master (The Beast) to warm up the young girl, helping him win her hand and allowing him, a beastly creature, to find true love at long last.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Like many of my generation, I grew up with the “big four” animated Disney movies of the late 80s / early 90s, so I’m well versed in their iterations of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King. I would have to say that, with the exception of Lion King (my personal favorite Disney movie), Beauty and the Beast would probably be my second favorite Disney movie and my first introduction to the iconic fairy tale story. From there, I learned about the other adaptations of the Beauty and the Beast tale from other cartoon films to live action movies (both modern and traditional representations), but I still prefer Disney’s 1991 animated film. Let’s be honest, from its story, to its animation, to its colorful characters (and solid voice talents), and its catchy and quintessential songs (that many still remember), Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is one of the more memorable feature films in Disney’s animated cannon. I just watched the movie recently and I do have to say that, even though is 26 years old (as of 2017), Beauty and the Beast still holds up in almost all categories, even in comparison to most modern 3D cartoon films. In short, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is truly timeless.

This, of course, fueled my interest to see the 2017 live action movie from Disney. After the success of their live-action reimagines of Cinderella and The Jungle Book (of which both movies were critically praised by fans and critics as well as huge box office champs), Disney had a lot to live up to and remaking Beauty and the Beast into a live-action adaption has created a lot of inherit hype. This includes all the “buzz” with the film’s cast selection as well as early promos of the feature (I’ve seen the movie trailers dozens of times). As you can imagine, I was very excited to see this new version of Beauty and the Beast, even placed it as my #3 pick in my “Most anticipated films of 2017”. So, after much waiting and anticipation, I finally went to see the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast. What did I think of it? Well, despite a few nitpicks, I completely loved the movie, finding Beauty and the Beast to be a grandiose retelling of the 1991 classic that’s both cinematic appealing and enchantingly entertaining.

What makes the movie so interesting (as well as appealing) is that the movie follows closely to the original animated movie. While past live-action adaptations have drawn some inspirations from their animated roots, Beauty and the Beast seems to be the closest representation to its 1991 cartoon counterpoint. Using Linda Woolverton’s original 1991 script as blueprint, Beauty and the Beast screenwriters Stephen Chboksy and Evan Spiliotopoulos retain most of the basic narrative of the animated film (sometimes almost beat-for-beat), while also integrating additional material in character backstory and subplots to further flesh out the large story of Disney’s version of the classic fairy tale. While some are more effective than others, it is (as a whole) woven together into the Woolverton’s script, expanding upon certain ideas and putting a modern spin on the themes and concepts of its original predecessor, without comprising and / or undermining the original 2D feature film that came before it. This also means that this 2017 version won’t alienate longtime fans of the 1991 cartoon movie, promising most (if not all) the iconic moments from that animated version to be translated in this live-action feature. In short, both Disney’s 2017 Beauty and the Beast walks hand-in-hand with its original narrative pleasing both diehard fans of the original as well as welcoming some new additions for its modern audience viewers.

Directing this 2017 reimaging of Beauty and the Beast is director Bill Condon, who’s previous works includes the films Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 and Part 2. Given his directorial musical background in Dreamgirls (as director / writer) as well as Chicago (as a writer), Condon makes for a fine choice to direct Beauty and Beast, especially since Disney’s 1991 version incorporated several musical numbers. As stated above with the film’s narration, Condon make sure to bring all the wonderful iconic moments from the original film to his live-action retelling, preserving the tale to be accessible to all (both longtime fans as well as newcomers). In addition, Condon gives more depth to certain characters, most notably with characters Gaston and Le Fou as well in Belle and Beast’s backstories. What also helps aid the movie is that Condon’s attention to detail in the film’s cinematic world, finding a French storybook world (as the film’s setting) that feels familiar and inviting, but also dazzles with its production designs and visuals.

This, of course, brings us to the film’s visual appearances with Beauty and the Beast being incredibly stunning; a really tour de force of dazzling on-screen cinema magic. Much like Disney’s 2015’s Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast has that whimsical fairy tale charm with heightened elaborate set pieces and colorful costumes; that certain feeling of “once upon a time”. However, what makes this film standout more is its time period aesthetic, utilizing the original narrative setting of France to play a part in the movie’s backdrop. This means that the film’s costumes (designed by Jacqueline Durran) are exquisite, befitting the time period of 17th or 18th Century (I get confused on which one I mean) France from women’s dresses and frocks to male’s jackets and vests. Also, each costume piece from lowly commoner to courtly dress is rendered beautifully. I especially liked the costume of Gaston, transforming the simply “hunter” outfit that he wore in the original cartoon into a French-inspired military officer attire. Of course, Belle’s famous “ballroom” yellow dress must be mentioned as it just was marvelous in live-action as it was it animated tale. I could go on about how much I loved each and very costume piece that the movie had to offer, but I’ll skip all that and just say that the French-styled costumes in Beauty and the Beast are absolutely gorgeous. As a side-note, I must mention the film’s make-up team for doing some impressive work on all characters in the feature (be it primary, secondary or stock).

Adding to the film’s French aesthetic, the film’s set-pieces and production quality are truly marvelous, finding the setting of Beast’s enchanted castle to be the prime example. Sarah Greenwood, the film’s production designer, must be commended on (as well as the whole Art Department team) for drawing inspiration of French baroque motifs (ornate and gilded) for the castle’s interior setting, bring to life all the various statues, furniture, crown molding, and art decorations throughout castle’s enchanted halls, corridors, and rooms. Even the castle’s outward appearance feels enchanting, not so much French architecture style, but feels something new and different from past iterations. This also includes how all of the enchanted servants appear in the movie, finding each one to fit that sort of “baroque influence” (see Lumiere and Cogsworth). It may get a bit getting use to how these characters look, but rest assured that it’s all for the better (especially since the film is bringing the 2D characters to life through CG visuals); each one tweaked with meticulous designs and outward appearances to reflect their respective household animated objects. Other visuals aids, including digital, practical, and photo-realistic imagery, help enrich the palpable appearance of the film. Lastly, much like its 1991 cartoon, Beauty and the Beast is very cinematic, with a special thanks to cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler for creating a dazzling array of powerfully dramatic shots from swooping camera angles to lingering camera moments, especially when the movie plays to the more important / memorable scenes of the feature. Wrapping all these visuals nuances together makes Condon’s retelling of Beauty and the Beasts to be a lavishing whimsical / musical fairy tale journey, something that’s similar to Joel Schumacher’s 2004 Phantom of the Opera (a film that I really enjoyed for its visual appearance).

With the film being a close representation to the original, Beauty and the Beast makes sure to utilize all the famous songs that were beloved by many in the animated tale. With composer Alan Menken, the original composer to the 1991 cartoon, the 2017 version has all songs and melodies that are tried to animated cartoon. I mean hearing the melodies such as “Prologue” and the soft flourishes of “Beauty and the Beast” as well as “Transformation” in this new movie was awesome (totally geeked out). This also extends to the iconic songs of the feature, finding my favorites like “Belle”, “Gaston, and “Be Our Guest” are clever and visually-engaging for viewers to enjoy.

Of course, being a super ultra-fan of the original animated classic, I do have a few minor nitpicks with this 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast. As I said above, the musical songs in the film, while great and filled with dramatic impact and graceful poise, some of them I rather prefer listening to the original songs, most notably the song “Beauty and the Beast” (sung by Angela Lansbury rather than Emma Thompson). Don’t get me wrong, all the songs in this movie are sung / performed great (not one is grating and / or unpleasing), but the original ones in the 1991 version are slightly better, especially since they are now famous and iconic in both Disney’s cannon as well as in pop culture. Personally, I would love to see “Human Again”, a song originally written for, deleted from, and later restored in special edition of Beauty and the Beast (via home release), be incorporated into this movie (sadly it wasn’t). Coinciding with that is the new songs that are added, including “Evermore” and “How Does a Moment Last Forever”. Again, while these songs are good (even written and composed by Alan Menken), there not completely memorable in comparison to all the songs from the 1991 version. That same goes for the end credits song, with current popular singers Arianna Grande and John Legend singing “Beauty and the Beast”. It’s good and I like it (even downloading it on iTunes), but I still prefer hearing Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson singing it. However, I do like that Josh Groban singing “Evermore” as well as Celine Dion sings “How Does a Moment Last Forever” during the end credits, finding the talented singer’s voice in both old and new version of this memorable tale.

Another minor negative point is the film’s runtime. With the 1991 version being only 84 minutes long, the 2017 version is much longer, with a runtime of 123 minutes (a difference of 39 minutes added). This comes at the cost of the film’s new additions of scenes of songs and subplots. Like the new songs, these scenes are good, but some do drag a bit (i.e. the mystery of Belle’s mother is a bit superfluous), making the feature longer than what it should be. However, while the new renditions of familiar songs and incorporating of brand new ones as well as the film’s runtime may not bother me as much, my biggest gripe with this new version of Beauty and the Beast is something smaller, but (to me) somewhat palpable. What is it? It’s actually certain important scenes that could’ve linger for five to ten seconds longer to add dramatic effect rather than just jumping into dialogue. I’m not going to say what scenes in particular (I won’t ruin it for you guys), but those scenes move to fast. Now, I’ve seeing the original Beauty and the Beast many times (I know it almost for verbatim), so it may not bother some, but it definitely bothered me as these scenes in the new movie somewhat loose its dramatic impact, which is a bit disappointing since all the need to add was a few seconds here and there to allow theatrical tension and dramatic effect (much like the cartoon did).

The cast in Beauty and the Beast is another one of the film’s greatest strength, with Condon selecting (and working) with a collective group of talented actors / actresses that are all recognizable from previous roles, but are allowed (for the most part) to make their own mark on these Disney-eques characters. Naturally, the film’s two main leads of Belle and Beast are handled quite well, finding stars Emma Watson and Dan Steven in very likeable roles. Watson, most famous for role as Hermione Granger in the eight Harry Potter films, does a great job as Belle, finding the young girl to be resourceful and strong-minded as she was in the original animated film, but putting a bit of her touch of the iconic character to differentiate herself from 2D princess. In truth, if you think about it, the character of Belle is much like Hermione (i.e. resourceful, clever, knowledgeable, etc.). However, Watson does perfectly fit the role of iconic Disney princess, with her beauty and charm (much like actress Lily James did in Cinderella). To be more truthful, while she’ll always be Hermione to many, Watson’s role of Belle is more memorable than most of the roles that her former Potter co-stars have done. As for Stevens, famous for his role on the popular British TV show Downton Abbey as Matthew Crawley, does a fantastic job, impressing viewers (including myself) as the titular Beast. Much like the cartoon (as well as the character in the story), Beast is supposed to be both rough and intimidating creature that becomes kind-hearted and gentle and Stevens captures that beautifully, showcasing a wide range of rich emotion with the character via the usage of a motion capture performance. It also especially helps that his voice work for Beast capture that very same emotion (again commanding and deep, but somewhat gentle).

As a whole, Watson and Stevens work great together, sharing a chemistry with each other, which makes for a big selling point in the movie. As for their singing, their vocal performances aren’t spectacularly awesome (as I didn’t expect them to be), but handle it musical scenes quite well (i.e. Watson’s rendition of “Belle” and Steven’s “Evermore”). To be honest, the pair actually do better than most non-singing A-lister stars in recent musical feature films (see 2012’s Les Miserable).

With their Broadway talents and experience, Beauty and the Beast gives actors Luke Evans, famous for his role in The Hobbit movies as well as The Girl on the Train, and Josh Gad, known for his roles in Frozen and a variety of comedy movies (The Wedding Ringer, Pixels, The Internship, etc.), a chance to showcase their singing abilities, with Evans playing the self-obsessed and masculine Gaston as Gad as the servile Le Fou. Both are given more depth than their animated predecessor and its fun to see both Evans and Gad play with their roles, especially during the song “Gaston”. However, while I have no problem with Evans as Gaston (I did enjoy him in the role in the film), I do have slight problem how he was represented in the film. Yes, the character is further developed in this 2017 version versus the 1991 cartoon (more fleshed out as a character than a single-minded cartoon antagonist), but the Gaston in the 2017 version seems a bit corny in comparison to the burly, masculine version. Like I said, I don’t blame Evans or his performance in the role, I blame the screenplay writers for making Gaston how he is in the movie. I don’t know…. maybe it’s just me. As I said, I love and cherish the 1991 movie a lot. As for Gad’s Le Fou, he makes the character his own, imbuing Gaston’s sidekick with his likeable goofy charm. This, of course, bring us to the much talked about controversy with his character being gay, something that many have frowned upon especially since Beauty and the Beast is a Disney movie. To be honest, it’s not that big a deal to get all “upset” about (nothing explicit or R-rated, or anything like that) as it merely hinted at in few scenes. Personally, it didn’t bother me and I’ll just leave it at that.

Rounding out the supporting cast for Beauty and the Beast are a plethora of familiar faces, with some actors with proven singing talents, including Kevin Kline as Belle’s father (Maurice), Ewan McGregor as the talking candlestick (Lumiere), Emma Thompson as the heartwarming / motherly teapot (Mrs. Potts), and Audra McDonald as the theatrical enchanted wardrobe (Madame de Garderobe), while recognizable actors like Sir Ian McKellen as Beast’s stuffy majordomo mantle clock (Cogsworth), Stanley Tucci as aged musical Harpsichord (Maestro Cadenza), Gugu-Mbatha-Raw as the graceful feather duster (Plumette), and Nathan Mack as Mrs. Potts eager teacup son (Chip) in mostly non-singing roles. These sides characters (be it human players or enchanted servants) tend to be not as quite as memorable as their animated counterparts, but are nevertheless quite enjoyable and entertaining in their respective roles.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The tale as old as time returns (and is new again) in the movie Beauty and the Beast. Director Bill Condon’s live-action remake of the famous Disney’s animated film succeeds in displaying the closes representation of a translated Disney cartoon to a live-action feature film, with bountiful nuances of Disney romance as well as lavishing visuals and an impressive cast (both in performances and in voice talents). Although some parts aren’t quite as memorable as the original 1991 animated film (to be fair the original film set the bar pretty high), this 2017 version is still of high quality, capturing the sheer beauty and majesty of the predecessor through imagery, acting, and storytelling. Personally, I loved this movie. Despite a few minor criticisms, the movie (as a whole) was definitely worth the hype and was entertaining. This, of course, means that I give this feature my highly-recommended stamp of approval (I personally can’t wait to see it again and this is definitely going to be a “Day One” purchase when this movie comes out on Blu-ray later on. As it stands, Beauty and the Beast is a masterfully (if not gracefully) homerun hit for Disney in their recent growing collection of translating the studio’s classic animated filmography into live-action based movies. Can’t wait to see what Disney does with Lion King or Mulan or even Aladdin.

4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: March 17th, 2017
Reviewed On: March 17th, 2017

Beauty and the Beast  is 123 minutes long is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images

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