For each generation, there is a group of animated Disney movies which they grew up watching repeatedly. Continuing to view the studio’s offerings into adulthood, one appreciates the advances they’ve made in technology and storytelling, but those movies that were “your movies” still hold a special place in your memories. Recently, Disney has begun reaching back into their vaults seeking properties they can translate to a live-action format. Their latest endeavour is Beauty and the Beast
, which definitely made fans somewhat uneasy — after all, can you really replace Mrs. Potts?
Belle (Emma Watson
) and her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline
), live in a small French town where the only excitement is in the books Belle reads. Her indirect rejection of a provincial life causes the town folk to label her odd and the local brute, Gaston (Luke Evans
), to consider her a challenging conquest. However a misunderstanding during a trip to the market causes Maurice to become indentured to Beast (Dan Stevens
), the master of an enchanted castle. Heartbroken by her father’s circumstances, Belle takes his place and vows to serve his life sentence. Seeing this as their last and only opportunity to break the spell, Beast’s servants-turned-furniture attempt to help the pair fall in love.
One of the biggest questions regarding this adaptation was whether they’d incorporate the songs that were so fundamental to the original animated film. Considering most of the melodies were eliminated from the live-action Cinderella
and almost none of the original music sequences appeared in the trailer, their inclusion became questionable. However all those fears are abated when after the prologue, the film opens on Belle walking through town, singing “Belle.” Consequently all of the original songs, as well as some new ones, are included in the movie. Moreover, a lot of the choreography — particularly during “Be Our Guest” — is adapted directly from the animated version.
While the similarities between the two pictures are appreciated and make the live-action version both enjoyable and familiar, it also calls into the question the necessity of its existence. If the original was so good filmmakers felt little need to alter it, why did it have to be made at all? The extra songs and minor adjustments to the narrative don’t add enough to create a distinct or even enhanced experience – just a longer one (the film runs two hours and nine minutes). Make no mistake, the film is lovely, entertaining and a great joy to watch… but so was the animated version. Of course this is a double-edged sword, because if they’d made too many changes and were less faithful to the source that would undoubtedly be an issue as well.
The cast is well chosen to bring these iconic characters to life. Even though Stevens is hidden beneath Beast’s façade and his voice is gruffer, his sense of humour and compassion are still able to frequently surface via his delivery of the dialogue and sterling blue eyes. While looking dreamily into the distance doesn’t appear to be a natural state for Watson, she captures Belle’s spirit, curiosity and kindness flawlessly. Meanwhile Evans is a surprisingly perfect Gaston: brash, self-assured and arrogant to a tee. And Josh Gad
retains the ridiculousness of his sidekick LeFou, but also gives him a heart and conscience that is regularly hushed… though parading him as the studio’s first “openly gay character” may be a bit of stretch. The animated objects include voices by Ewan McGregor
(Lumière), Ian McKellen
(Cogsworth), Emma Thompson
(Mrs. Potts), Gugu Mbatha-Raw
(Plumette) and Stanley Tucci
(Maestro Cadenza), all of whom fill their characters’ big shoes with flair and confidence. It should also be noted the entire cast has wonderful singing voices and do each of the classic songs justice.
One of the most breath-taking aspects of the film is its stunning visuals. Everything from the landscapes to the sets to the costumes to the living objects are simply gorgeous with incredible detail and faithfulness to the source material. Their outfits — gold ball gown and blue suit — for the iconic dance are particularly striking as they perfectly recreate the originals, making everyone’s inner child swoon a little. More importantly, the talking furniture remain amusing rather than creepy.
Overall, in spite of the unnecessarily longer runtime, this is an impressive adaptation that will satisfy fans of the animated version while mesmerizing audiences with its beauty and still sing-along-friendly soundtrack.
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson
, Dan Stevens
and Luke Evans