...true as it can be. Bill Condon's live-action reimagining of the 1991 animated classic is magically beautiful and nostalgically resonant.
When it comes to animated films, “Beauty and the Beast” falls at the no. 3 position for my all time favorite animated films, with “Mulan” coming in at no. 2 and Studio Ghibli’s “Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind” as the reigning ruler of all animated films. “Beauty and the Beast” means quite a bit to me, as it was one of the first animated Disney films I was ever exposed to, and it has followed me ever since. From its music, characters, gorgeous animation and engaging romance, everything about this film hit me in all the right places when I was younger. When it was announced that Disney would remake “Beauty and the Beast” for the big screen, naturally I became excited; when it was announced that Bill Condon would direct this live-action remake, I became stoked; when it was announced that Emma Watson would play Belle, I lost my shit. Disney’s predilection for remakes has been pretty successful in the past few years, with spin-off films like “Maleficent” making loads of money, as well as earning my respect, as well as direct remakes like 2015’s “Cinderella,” which was a strong, if a bit too straightforward retelling of one of the most recognizable fairy tales of all time. So where does “Beauty and the Beast” fall in this equation?
At the top.
The story of “Beauty and the Beast” is a classic, meaning that if you’re unaware of the plot, stop reading this and get your hands on the 1991 original pronto. From the start of “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s clear that Condon isn’t trying to directly remake the original word for word, with new musical sequences, characters, a change in pacing and some more development in the characters that make the experience feel new, if still familiarly reverent. The biggest surprise of “Beauty and the Beast” was its inclusion of not one, but many new songs to go with the existing soundtrack. Not only are these songs good, but as I was watching one song in particular, I knew that I was looking at the frontrunner for Best Original Song at next year’s Oscars.
Though, the most impressive part of “Beauty and the Beast” coming into it is its extensive cast. As I noted before, I got quite excited at the prospect of Watson as Belle, which she pulls off with an almost natural ease. My biggest fear going into the film was concerns surrounding Watson’s singing voice, as I feared that it would feel too digitally manufactured to feel like true Belle, but I was surprised to see that Watson has quite the pipes on her, easily handling both the classic and new music easily. Watson is also just an incredibly likable actress, instantly instilling a sense of connection that makes us root for her without even having to know much about her character. This charisma transfers over to the character of Belle wonderfully, with the audience rooting for her even in moments where you might think “Well, that was a stupid idea” (something I always found to be Belle’s problem in the original).
But Watson isn’t alone in this endeavor, Dan Stevens makes a surprisingly great Beast, with a powerful singing voice and much more material to work with than in the original film, his take on Belle’s unlikely suitor a much more sympathetic one, one that feels more human than any incarnation of this character did in the past. The film also includes performances from other veteran actors like Ewan McGregor, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thomspon and even Sir Ian McKellen in supporting roles. Each of these actors find new and inventive ways to riff off of classic character, especially that of McGregor and McKellen in the roles of Lumière and Cogsworth, to which they find an undeniable chemistry together.
Controversy has surrounded “Beauty and the Beast” as of late due to the revelation that Gad’s Le Fou would be an openly gay character in the film. As for the execution of Walt Disney Pictures’s first gay character, it was a surprisingly restrained take on it, but ballsy nonetheless. I can’t say I was particularly crazy about his character constantly trying to win Evans’s Gaston’s affection, yet there is hardly a gay man I know (myself included) who hasn’t felt some type of way about a person they can’t have. Gad’s way of going about it might’ve been a bit over-the-top, but it fits surprisingly. And let’s be real, we all knew watching the original.
“Beauty and the Beast” takes a much more theatrical look about it than something like “Cinderella,” which took on a subtly cinematic look to it. Things are exaggerated and sometimes a bit over the top, but so was everything in the original, making this incarnation of “Beauty and the Beast” truly feel like an animated film come to life. It has the magic of a live-action reincarnation with the animated charms that defined the original so wonderfully. Despite this, “Beauty and the Beast” never feels anything short of lush, with no cheapness to be found in any aspect of the film, something you might see in a lesser adaption of an animated film.
That being said, the film does sometimes take a bit more a restrained look inside the castle, with grand spaces like the library and dining room feeling much smaller in this version, to which I surprisingly appreciated. In animation, it’s possible to animate anything to realistically fit in with the world around the characters, but in CGI vs. live-action, that isn’t always the case. While “Beauty and the Beast” does us quite a bit of CGI throughout the entire film, I appreciated the production designer’s choice to build real sets for the characters to interact with, rather than that of green screened environments that feel disingenuous. Much of the world of “Beauty and the Beast” might be animated and manufactured, but the actual world the characters reside in feels very real and authentic.
“Beauty and the Beast” wasn’t screened in 3D for Charlotte critics, but it was screened in IMAX, which is the only format that “Beauty and the Beast” should be seen in. Not only is the film opened up from a 2.35:1 aspect ratio to a 1.90:1 aspect ratio to fit the IMAX screen (a visual explanation of this can be found here), but the music is simply stunningly boisterous through the booming IMAX speakers. During the opening number, “Belle” (which is technically not the opening number anymore, but will forever live as the true opening number), there were times where I felt my body physically reacting with goosebumps to the immersive sound produced from the film. I’ve heard that Disney will offer “Beauty and the Beast” in both IMAX 2D and 3D, a rarity for the IMAX Corporation, and while the film looks as if it would be stunning in IMAX 3D, rest assured that an IMAX 2D experience will be a stunning experience all its own.
But here comes the real question: is “Beauty and the Beast” as good as its animated predecessor? To put it simply, no. Yet, did we ever expect it to surpass it? The original “Beauty and the Beast” is a classic piece of cinema, animated or otherwise, and while this remake might just be a best case scenario situation when it comes to remakes of classic cinema, nothing can ever take away the classic status that the original brought to the film world.
“Beauty and the Beast” is everything I could’ve hoped it would be. Watson is an absolute star and steps into the shoes of Belle perfectly, with a likable charisma that Belle desperately needed. The supporting cast is extensive, impressive, and surprisingly well-used (especially McDonald’s Garderobe, which will satisfy every theater nerd’s need for more Audra), with fabulous performances from Stevens, McGregor and McKellen to round out the cast. Condon makes the film feel pervasively magical, as he’s done in the past with films like “Dreamgirls” and his screenplay to “Chicago,” with a decidedly Disney twist about it (shocking, it being a Disney film and all). Sure, “Beauty and the Beast” won’t ever replace the 1991 original, but for a tale as old as time, this new vision feels true as it can be.
Directed by: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, with Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson.
Runtime: 129 minutes
Rating: PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.
Also available in Disney Digital 3D, RealD 3D, IMAX 2D and IMAX 3D.
Disney presents, “Beauty and the Beast,” a Mandeville Films production, a Bill Condon film