Beauty and the Beast: As old as time, but still beautiful
March 29, 2017
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Disney has puzzled me recently with their decision to remake many of their cartoon films as live-action iterations. It almost seems like they are casting out traditional animation as outdated. While older films like The Jungle Book could use some touching up, remaking a film as already technically advanced as 1991’s Beauty and the Beast seems to be almost an insult. I can happily declare that this is not at all the case. The new film is rather a celebration of all things classic Disney.
Unlike some of Disney’s other remakes, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast sticks quite closely to the original film, with only a couple alternate or added sequences. Enchanted household objects try to convince bookish farm-girl Belle (Emma Watson) to fall in love with their beastly master (Dan Stevens) so they can be freed from their curse and return to their human forms. All the while, Belle is pursued by the manly yet uncharming Gaston (Luke Evans) who lets nothing get in the way of his plan to marry her.
The entire cast is made up of new actors who fill their famous roles perfectly. Watson surprises with her impressive singing voice, Evans evokes every feeling that makes Gaston one of Disney’s best villains, and Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen have energetic chemistry as hosts Lumière and Cogsworth. Especially noteworthy is Emma Thompson’s rendition of the Oscar-winning title song, which even made me wonder if they reused Angela Lansbury’s original vocal track.
Shower singers will be delighted to hear that every musical number from the 1991 film returns, performed excellently by the new cast, and all of the music is handled by original composer Alan Menken. A couple new songs, notably a Beast solo near the end, are added and feel as if they had always been there among the other grandiose show tunes. The new score is exceptional, using the original instrumental theme as well as melodies from the soundtrack with large orchestration.
Also bringing back the feel of the original is the set and costume design. Everything from the bright village to the twisted castle garden, with detailed suits and gowns in between, has an otherworldly appearance that gives the film a fantastical charm. Deep winter woods and dizzying castle towers totally justify buying a 3D ticket. Even in live-action, transitions between live sets and surrealist landscapes typical of animated Disney musicals move unhesitatingly. Despite the high standards of the cartoon version, every scene manages to match or surpass its original. Well, nearly every scene, as the iconic ballroom dance could not be replaced despite Disney’s best efforts.
With the switch to live-action comes a change to some character designs. These all work fine, though the Beast is much less gnarled presumably to be less frightening after the first part of the movie. He still manages to be menacing when he is supposed to be, but this along with the CGI wolves also in the first act might be too scary in a theater for children younger than 7 or 8.
For fans of Disney or anyone who has not seen Beauty and the Beast since their early childhood, the new film delivers everything expected of it. There are no giant revisions like 2010’s Alice in Wonderland that make the film feel any different from the original, but that seems to be what director Bill Condon had in mind. Beauty and the Beast is a compliment to the 1991 film, not an update.
For its wondrous visuals, enchanting music, and stellar performances, Beauty and the Beast deserves an 8.5/10. Belle’s life sentence at the cursed castle is one that seems worth serving.