Beauty and the Beast
Directed by: Bill Condon
Run Time: 2 hours 9 minutes
Disney is continuing their recent tradition of turning classic cartoons into live action films with the release of Beauty and the Beast. Considering how much money this film has already raked in at the box office, you have probably already seen the film. In case you were one of the few families who didn’t crowd into the theaters last weekend, allow me to tell you a little bit about the story.
Based on the 1991 animated feature, Beauty and the Beast tells the classic tale of a vain and selfish prince (Dan Stevens) who is cursed by an enchantress to live as a horrible beast unless he can find true love. When crazy old Maurice (Kevin Kline) becomes imprisoned by the beast, daughter Belle (Emma Watson) comes to his rescue and takes her father’s place as a prisoner in the castle. Over time, Belle learns that there is more to Beast than meets the eye and you surely know what happens next!
Before I delve into details of the new film, let me take a moment to remind you of the perfection of the 1991 version—a film so adored that it was the first full length animated feature to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture—pretty impressive! I first saw this film in college and since my daughter was born I’ve seen it countless times. It is by far my favorite Disney film and Belle has always been my favorite princess. I know all of the songs by heart and can recite large amounts of dialogue—heck our first family dog was named Belle! So my daughter and I were giddy with excitement to see the newest version—especially since it featured “Hermione Granger”—my daughter’s favorite Harry Potter character along with an absolutely stellar cast.
The film is beautifully shot with gorgeous sets, opulent costumes and amazing visual effects. The enchanted castle staff come alive beautifully and the personalities of Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts really do shine through their household object exteriors. Emma Watson is charming as the book-loving Belle, a girl who just doesn’t fit in within her small French town. She longs for a life filled with adventure and excitement and doesn’t want to settle for less. While I adore Emma Watson, I found this casting a bit surprising. First of all, she has a strong British accent and she is supposed to be French (which admittedly also happens with original Belle Paige O’Hara speaking with an American accent). But more importantly, while she has a lovely voice, it’s not as full and rich as I would have expected for this vocally challenging role. Taking on the role of Beast, Dan Stevens does a great job in a mostly CGI role. To achieve the look of the beast, he filmed each scene with motion capture sensors on his face to be incorporated into the computer generated face of Beast. While I still haven’t forgiven Stevens for leaving Downton Abbey, I will admit that he really gives some depth to his character and does quite well dancing on stilts in a beast suit. My favorite casting choice was giving the role of villain Gaston to Luke Evans. He is a fantastic singer, absolutely gorgeous and he perfectly captures the preening, obtuse village dreamboat. Josh Gad is also vocally stellar as sidekick LeFou and Emma Thompson especially stands out as the always cheery Mrs. Potts.
There’s no doubt that you will have a terrific time watching this delightful and engaging film. However, I can’t help but wish that they had departed more from the animated version. So many scenes were shot-for-shot recreations and this forced me to compare the two repeatedly. Unfortunately, the new version almost always falls just a bit short to the original. When the live-action version of Cinderella was released in 2015, they delved much more into the wicked stepmother’s motivations and really created something new and fresh. While director Bill Condon has added some scenes and even some new songs, the story still follows a little too closely for my liking. Even in the big castle fight scene near the end, the wardrobe shoots out girly fabrics and the villagers end up in drag—just like in the cartoon.
If I had seen this new version of the story without knowledge of the past film, I would probably say that it was fantastic. But since it does pale slightly in comparison to the animated version, I will say that it’s just (but still!) great. My daughter absolutely loved the film and we’ve been listening to the soundtrack all week long. So be our guest and head out to the theater this weekend for a tale as old as time!