Beauty and the Beast

 photo beauty_and_the_beast_ver3_zpstl3cqj0c.jpg photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgDisney’s current trend of turning its animated classics into live-action movies has been a pretty lucrative business. Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book have all done big business. The recipe is simple. Take an existing fictional work that is beloved by millions and reproduce with real people. This satisfies a thirst for nostalgia which ensures there will already be a built-in audience ready to watch. The formula works so well it seems almost too easy. It’s not difficult to dismiss the practice as a quick cash grab. Yet, anyone who has ever looked upon any of these films can distinguish that these aren’t slapdash efforts. These meticulously created works, while lacking an original story, still present something magical at the cinema.

The 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast is a noble addition to the Disney treasury. We all know the “tale as old as time”. It’s the chronicle of Belle played by a no-nonsense Emma Watson. Belle is a smart, independent young woman at odds with the bourgeois habits of her provincial townsfolk. Luke Evans is Gaston, an arrogant suitor. LeFou (Josh Gad) is his bumbling sidekick. However, Belle has no use for Gaston or anyone else in the town for that matter. Personally, I’ve always found her opening song decrying the unsophisticated townsfolk as insufferably elitist, but hey that’s just me. Nevertheless, she gains our sympathy when she is taken prisoner by a beast in his fortress. Dan Stevens portrays the part in a motion capture performance, rather than relying on prosthetics. Her initial fears dissipate as she is befriended by the enchanted denizens of the castle staff. Slowly she grows to see beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and see the true heart of the man within.

This isn’t director Bill Condon’s foray into the movie musical. His production of Dreamgirls in 2006 was a lavish adaptation of the 1981 Broadway hit. His reworking here evokes the traditional theater pieces of a bygone era. It’s lavish, grand and cheerfully old fashioned. That the achievement seems rooted in the musical tradition of a bygone era is a colossal feat of misdirection given all the modern CGI employed here. It’s seamlessly utilized to bring the inanimate objects of the castle to life: the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), the mantel clock (Ian McKellen), the harpsichord (Stanley Tucci), , the wardrobe (Audra McDonald), the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and last but certainly not least, the teapot (Emma Thompson) and teacup (Nathan Mack). It’s not easy to embody characters we already know and love, but the actors, mostly only heard, lend their voices with sincerity and warmth.

Emma Watson makes a self-assured Belle. The actress is recognizable to audiences as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series and that familiarity, along with her personality, fulfills this role. Dan Stevens is a suitably charismatic beast. Together they have chemistry. Their discussion in the library over the merits of Shakespeare is the proof we need that these characters have souls. She falls in love with his goodness, but he is also her intellectual equal. It’s not merely his appearance that makes him different. It’s his mind as well. Also amongst the humans is Gaston, a fittingly cast Luke Evans as Belle’s narcissistic wannabe suitor and his fawning pal LeFou, in a bit of comic relief by Josh Gad.

Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) gently tweak the story to give added depth to the fable with which we are already acquainted. Don’t worry. This isn’t meant to replace your fond memories of the animated 1991 classic. It’s simply there to offer something more. And more is what you’ll get. More songs! Three new numbers are added by Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice. More script! It’s 45 minutes longer than the cartoon. More costumes! More flair! More! More! More!   The songs are supported by the spectacle.  The famous number “Be Our Guest” is a veritable Busby Berkeley extravaganza inside the magnificent home. My mouth stood agape as the dazzling routine unfolded before my eyes in a specular vision of color and music.

Beauty and the Beast is a production designer’s dream. The sets, locations, graphics, props, lighting, and costumes are beyond compare. In particular, there’s a physicality to these locales that make you believe that these places do indeed exist. The town is a quaint fairy tale community and the majestic castle has an impressive gothic air. The overall look is so fully realized, you’ll forgive that the plot holds no surprises. Yes for all its charm, this merely remains a beautifully realized imitation of its predecessor. The accomplishment is undeniably gorgeous but not visionary. If the very idea of a live-action reimagining of Beauty and the Beast offends you, then this picture will not change your perceptions. On the other hand, if you’re intrigued by the idea, then the movie will be a delight. I’m pleased to say I was thoroughly entertained.

03-16-17

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13 Responses to “Beauty and the Beast”

  1. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Glad you enjoyed it so much! I enjoyed the large musical set pieces also. If only Emma had a good singing voice. 😦 It’s nowhere near the original for me but I didnt hate with the passion of a thousand fiery suns like Maleficent so there’s that. LOL. It was ok

    • Huh. I thought Emma Watson’s singing voice was quite pleasant and rather pure. It wasn’t necessary for this to top or even meet the original. I went in expecting a good movie and I got that. I was happy.

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Shrug. I feel it’s some measure of success that I didnt hate it with how much I hated the marketing. But yes I thought Emma’s voice was autotuned and awful.

      • Yeah, I would never allow a film’s marketing to cloud my judgment of the actual picture. I review movies, not advertising.

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        That’s true. I did the best I could to be objective and fair

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        But hey we both liked the large musical set pieces so there’s that

  2. I don’t think this was as good as the original, however, I absolutely loved it. It was magical. Characters were very funny and ALL the singing was great. I even liked the new songs. A new classic indeed. 4 stars

    • I guess comparisons are inevitable as this is a remake of an earlier film. Yet I don’t think it has to be as good as previous incarnations. It simply needs to be entertaining. And it was. Apparently we’re not alone given the astounding opening weekend numbers. This charmed A LOT of people.

  3. A live action version of Beauty and the Beast? Now where did I hear of THAT idea before?

  4. Beauty and the Beast was one I missed this year. I loved the animated version growing up, and honestly I didn’t feel the need to see it transformed into a live-action version. These live-action adaptations of classic Disney animated films do seem like cash grabs, but I agree that they’re definitely not slapdash. So kudos to them for caring about the craft, at the very least. I never thought to hard about it before, but you’re right that Belle’s opening song is extremely elitist. I like the idea of them adding an intellectual connection between Belle and the Beast that makes their attraction stronger. I don’t love the idea of them making the movie so much longer and adding so much to it, but again, at least it shows that they care about doing a good job with it. Although the production design sounds impressive, I’m not sure it piques my curiosity enough to see the film on my own. Maybe I’ll catch it if it makes its way to me during screener season.

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