Beauty and the Beast – Movie Review
Rating: B (Good)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios
In Disney’s vast catalogue of animated titles, Beauty and the Beast is generally regarded as one of their best works. The decision to make a live-action version is sure to create suspicion of the studio merely cashing in on a movie that has already worked perfectly before. Director Bill Condon seems to understand how hard it is to replicate animated perfection and opts to take more inspiration from the popular Broadway musical Disney brought to the stage in 1994. His Beauty and the Beast is a respectful take on the material, unafraid of showing off its lavish production design and expertly choreographed musical numbers. For those who never got the chance to see the long-running stage play, this is the closest opportunity one has to achieving that goal.
The large reason for the success of this incarnation of Beauty and the Beast is the soundtrack with Alan Menken bringing back all of the familiar tunes from the animated classic and adding in some new songs. While none of the songs written specifically for the stage show are performed, Menken still finds a way to weave their melodies into the orchestral score. Condon embraces the Broadway-esque feel of the production with each number succeeding at prompting the appropriate show-stopping reaction. With one notable exception, all of the actors bring the necessary energy and emotion to the songs. Long time fans of the animated film will need to hold their tongues to avoid singing along to Menken and Howard Ashman’s unforgettable music. Even “Be Our Guest”, a number that could have lost its luster under a barrage of computer generated silverware, is a delight with Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere unashamedly laughing it up in his mock French accent.
The highlight of the new cast surprisingly ends up being Josh Gad. Lefou and Gaston’s relationship is expanded upon here with Lefou written as more than just the villain’s lackey. The inner conflict is portrayed nicely by Gad and doesn’t feel like a superfluous change made just to differentiate this version from the animated film. The contrast between Gaston and the Beast is touched upon further, with Gaston putting on an even bigger “nice guy” act. Luke Evans lays on the charm early on, but cleverly shows more of his rotten side as the film goes on. The adaptation, credited to Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, tweaks the material in a way that is thankfully not insulting to the animated film and stage show it takes inspiration from. The only bit of padding comes from an extended explanation for Belle’s lack of a mother, something few people who watched the animated film really cared about and just chalked up to Disney’s habit of killing off parents.
Belle is one of Disney’s most highly regarded heroines for good reason. Yet she ends up being the least interesting element in this new interpretation. The filmmakers check off the right boxes, but Belle merely goes through the expected motions here. Emma Watson gives the role a game try, but she never allows us to erase Hermione Granger from our minds. There’s an artificiality to her singing that becomes increasingly obvious when compared to her fellow cast members. Emma Watson and Ryan Gosling were unfairly criticised for their singing in La La Land, but there was a natural presence to their work in that film.
Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s Disney classic Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, will likely forever remain the undisputed adaptation of the famous French fairy tale. Its Broadway rendition continues to resonate with audiences and that’s what Bill Condon uses as his primary source. It is wonderful to see a film embrace its own genre with each musical number sure to bring smiles to audience’s faces. Even with its disappointing Belle, this is a well done and nicely told version of the “tale as old as time” that is thankfully able to stand up on its own feet.
About Stefan Ellison
Stefan Ellison has had a passion for cinema since an early age. A graduate of York University, he likes creating stories just as much as writing movie reviews. For the past number of years, he has also become a viral video distributor, exploring the bold and exciting world of the online new media revolution. Stefan is also an enthusiast in the art of animation, constantly researching the historical aspects of the medium, whether it involves finding out who animated Mickey Mouse or what type of plasticine was used for Wallace & Gromit.
Regardless of whether a film was made to win awards or throw explosions at the screen, Stefan will watch it.