By Jack Dignan
In 1991, Disney took the world by storm, bringing to life their soon-to-be animated classic Beauty and the Beast. The film was a mega hit, even garnishing up six Academy Award nominations, including two wins and the title of being the first ever animated film to receive a Best Picture nomination. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast had become a global phenomena, and now, during their recent string of live action remakes, this tale as old as time will become a global phenomena once more. Strap in, take a deep breath and get your singing voice ready, for this is a film you’re not going to want to miss out on, not that anybody had any intention to.
If you haven’t seen the original Beauty and the Beast before, you’re missing out on one of the greatest, most whimsical animated films of all time. It was an era of brilliance for Disney, striking gold year after year with Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Pocahontas, amongst others. Beauty and the Beast fit right in, the live action adaption taking on the same plot. It tells the tale of a young farm girl named Belle (Emma Watson), who’s somewhat of a social outcast in her town, her nose always buried in a book. A dashing, self obsessed war hero named Gaston (Luke Evans) is after her hand in marriage, accompanied by his slapstick and affectionate sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad), but Belle is far from interested, for true love is one of the last things on her mind.
When travelling to the markets, as he does every year, Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is run off track. Lost and in danger, he encounters a mysterious snowy castle where he’s made a prisoner, sentenced to life in the castle’s cell. Belle hears of the news, rushing out to take his place, and it’s here she discovers the castle’s deepest secret, as well as its monstrous owner… The Beast (Dan Stevens). This Beast was once a man, as were the castle staff, but their humanity was stripped when a curse was placed upon them. There is, however, a way to break the curse. The Beast has to fall in love. With time slowly running out, could Belle be the one to save them?
While the narrative helms close to the animated classic, the key plot points remaining the same, the narrative beats are expanded out; crafting a familiar, yet fresh take on this timeless love story. Their romance is just as dazzling and charming as ever, the characters so rich with life and likeability, full of charisma and larger than life personalities. Their live action interpretations admirably bring justice to who these characters are, often with more expansive backstories. The characters here, for better or for worse, feel better realised than in the original. Each of them receives a little more characterization, whether it’s through their motives or career or pre-cursed lifestyle, and the actors performing them do a stupendous job.
It’s difficult to pick a favourite cast member, for each of them brings something unique and wondrous to this magical fairytale. Emma Watson is mesmerising as Belle, looking and sounding the part. It’s a very humane and selfless take on the character, but one with deep emotional roots, and boy, Emma Watson sure can sing. She’s an actress of great talent, now having brought to life two iconic and empowering female characters through the likes of Belle and Hermione. Her chemistry with Dan Stevens is great, a necessity when it comes to a story like this one. Stevens brings much needed sympathy to the character of Beast, working as an intimidating presence, vicious captor, and strangely romantic counterpart to Watson’s Belle. He doesn’t seem to carry as much pain as his animated version, but there’s a strong sense of sadness and loneliness always hovering around him, an aspect of his character that audiences everywhere will surely latch onto.
Beauty and the Beast’s cast list is extensive, the acting talents ranging from the likes of Emma Thompson to Josh Gad to Ian McKellen. Everyone has a part to play, whether it be a smaller role such as Stanley Tucci’s Maestro Cadenza, a character who only ever appeared in the direct to DVD animated sequel Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, or Ewan McGregor’s show-stealing Lumière, who’s just as great as ever. McGregor and McKellen share a large amount of screen time, and every single minute they share is sublime, often turning in some of the funniest, most endearing moments this film has to offer. The entire supporting cast does a surprisingly great job at bringing in genuine, heartfelt emotion, especially during the film’s flooring finale, a sequence that had me on the brink of tears.
Taking inspiration from the original film’s glorious animation, and at times feeling as though that film’s hand-drawn panels have been perfectly replicated, this new Beauty and the Beast is a visually astounding and highly joyous experience. Beast, at times, looks very obviously CGI, but with that aside, nearly every visual effect is ridiculously good. It’s bouncy and alive, but with a certain humanity to it, fitting in with the lavish sets and real world environments. Lumière’s ‘Be Our Guest’ musical number is performed without flaw. Every effect is astonishing, consistently and delightfully taking my breath away. A great many of the characters are entirely CGI, yet never did they feel out of place. The final act brings together most of the human and CGI characters, and the two blended to perfection.
While many Disney classics are known for their catchy scores and musical numbers, Beauty and the Beast is, perhaps, one of the better-known ones. The musical sequences are to die for. Each one receives a little bit of a change up in comparison to the original, making this experience all the more worthwhile, and the new songs made directly for this movie fit right in. Even The Beast receives a solo song this time around, a welcomed addition that showcases a little bit more of his inner turmoil and romantic frustration. One of the biggest surprises was Josh Gad and Luke Evan’s ‘Gaston’ song, an expertly choreographed and wonderfully ridiculous take on the song that brought with it countless laughs.
Gad delightfully serves as this film’s secret weapon, providing the biggest giggles in the most unexpected of places. His infatuation with Gaston never failed to delight, and his newly developed character arc beyond satisfying. But that does bring me to some of this film’s negatives. A lot of new additions work, especially Gad and some of the musical numbers, but at the same time, a lot doesn’t. Most of the additions take place outside of the castle, separate to Belle and the Beast, and it’s here where the film starts to drag. The sub-plots are never crisp, lingering on the point and taking way too long to reach the same spot that could’ve easily had been achieved in a much shorter runtime. The finale receives an expansion as well, but it’s this expansion that’s probably my favourite. In fact, all of the castle-based expansions worked to tremendous results. Belle and Beast share several moving and emotional moments in which their backstories are further developed, adding to the believability of their relationship.
Before having seen the film, director Bill Condon seemed to be a strange choice for taking on this project. On the one hand, he’s the writer behind Chicago and writer-director behind Dreamgirls, so he’s got a background in cinematic musicals. But on the other hand, this is the man who’s also directed two Twilight movies and the dreadfully boring Fifth Estate, so he could really go either way. Condon’s work as a director is admirable. The sets are big and clearly a set, never looking too authentic, but the performance’s he’s able to get from his actors make them feel real. One of his weakest links is through the cinematography and editing, unable to capture the scope and feel of this dashing epic. Tobias A. Schliessler’s camera work is frequently bland, sadly never doing the visuals the justice they deserve.
Another problem this film faces is its breathing room, or severe lack of. There’s always something new going on, the editing fast and choppy. Nothing ever slows, the scene transitions irritably abrupt. A film such as this needs time to slow, drawing audiences into the world being created, instead of rushed through for the sake of an overly fast moving plot. There’s never enough time to soak in what’s happening on screen, as the film’s already rushing to get a few steps ahead, leaving us behind in the process. It’s not hard to follow, the plot very clear, but its just there’s never enough time to fully enjoy what’s going on. The moment a song ends, another one starts, and before you know it, you’re three songs in without having any time to appreciate and enjoy the first.
I wanted to go this whole review without mentioning the controversy behind LeFou’s character. I really did. But the simple fact of the matter is, if you’re attempting to boycott this movie because you think Disney is trying to shove a gay agenda down you’re throat, you’re doing nothing more than missing out on an absolutely wonderful movie. This film is going to make billions. It’s a gleeful, dazzling movie experience that pays respect to its source material and will have you singing and dancing for years to come.
3 1/2 Stars
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