Beauty and the Beast is a welcome addition to the Disney library…again.
Following in the footsteps of Disney’s growing catalog of such films, Beauty and the Beast is a live-action adaptation of the original animated film. More than any other, this is the most faithful to the original story, but with some welcome additions. About the story itself, director Bill Condon said in the production notes (parentheses mine), “There have been some recent movies that have been top to bottom reinventions (Alice in Wonderland) or stories as seen from another character’s point of view or something (Maleficent),” he says. “This is not that. What we wanted to do was bring the story more into reality, not create a new story.” Originally, Condon was hesitant to direct the film, feeling like there wasn’t much more you could do with a film that was so classic. But he came to the realization there was something he could offer. “It is 25 years later (after the animated classic) and technology has caught up to the ideas that were introduced in the animated movie. Now it is possible, for the first me, to create a photo-real version of a talking teacup on a practical set in a completely realistic live action format.”
In this adaptation, Condon incorporated elements from the Broadway musical as well…but not the music. Condon felt the music added to the Broadway show was meant to explore the story as written for the stage so instead he added some new songs to the mix, giving the film it’s own musical stamp. “Evermore” (my favorite new song) is a rich and powerful ballad sung by the Beast while the equally touching “How Does A Moment Last Forever” was added to deepen the character of Maurice. And “Days in the Sun” is reminiscent of the song “Human Again” from the stage production where it serves to give the characters some backstory and at the same time move the plot along. What Condon did in the live action film was to add more supporting characters to the cast while still focusing on Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and Cogsworth. Babette and Madame Garderobe (simply known as the Wardrobe in the animated film and Madame de la Grande Bouche in the stage musical) are more prominent and more of the objects in the castle gain their own identities.
What I appreciated the most were the little touches that Condon added to the film. We discover what happened to Belle’s mother and why she isn’t there – which not only satisfies Beauty and the Beast fans’ curiosity but deepens the bond between Belle and her father Maurice. On a little side note, we also discover what became of MR. Potts. We wanted to know that too, right? Of course, you’ll have to see the film to find out the answer to both of those questions. But what I liked the most was how Condon empowered Belle’s character to be even stronger and more intelligent than before. We see how she takes after her father with her own inventiveness and creative capability. And when she trades places with Maurice as the Beast’s prisoner she tells her father, “Don’t worry, I’ll escape” putting it firmly in the minds of the viewer that she isn’t passively switching places with her father, but plans on figuring a way out.
The only part of the film that bothered me were some of the CGI effects. Belle running up to the top of the hill while singing her signature song looked like a backdrop was behind her rather than a view from the top. And at times the Beast seemed computer generated (he was completely CGI using some incredibly sophisticated technology – but I mean he not only WAS computer generated, but was notably such). I was also slightly disappointed in the “Be Our Guest” number which was almost exactly the same as the animated version, and sometimes what works in animation doesn’t work in live action. Animation lends itself to a higher degree of suspension of belief, and for me it was a little too much. I’m sure there will be others who completely disagree with me on this point, but it was distracting for me.
What wasn’t distracting were the performances. While Emma Watson did a very good job portraying such an iconic character in Belle and Dan Stevens was convincing as the Beast, I was most impressed with some of the non-titular characters. Luke Evans portrayal as Gaston was my favorite. He was able to admirably pull off the conceit of Gaston while making him less of a caricature. He was a wily, conniving, and manipulative villain and not as empty-headed as his animated counterpart. Kevin Kline added just the right touch to Belle’s father, making less scatterbrained and a true inventive genius, but it was Kline’s demeanor and tone that convinced you of the deep bond between father and daughter. And Josh Gad as LeFou played Gaston’s sidekick with such subtlety he convinces you why someone would willingly play “the fool” to Gaston. Gad made the character more believable and added some serious depth to him.
An all-star cast, amazing music and lyrics by legends Alan Menken and Tim Rice, and 25 years of technological advancement make this a film worth seeing. Condon certainly earns his place in the Beauty and the Beast family. A whole new generation of kids will see this film and make it their own as my generation did with the original animated version.