Directed By: Bill Condon
Written By: Stephen Chbosky & Evan Spiliotopoulos
Runtime: 2 hours 9 minutes
I cannot begin to explain how excited I was to get to review this movie. If I hadn’t been in a theater with about twenty-five other reviewers, I might have burst into tears as soon as the title appeared on screen. Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I ever saw in theaters, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s still one of my favorite movies. It’s a beautiful film, has some of the most memorable songs of all time, and features a princess whose defining characteristic is her love of reading. When I heard about the live-action remake, I was both excited and nervous. I’m not the kind of person who worries that a bad adaptation of a beloved classic will destroy my childhood, but I still wanted to like the new version. Luckily for me, I was not disappointed.
If you’ve been living under a rock your entire life and don’t know the story, Beauty and the Beast is about a beautiful bookworm named Belle (Emma Watson), who lives in a small French village with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), where her bookish ways are misunderstood by the other townspeople, including Belle’s brawny, brutish suitor, Gaston (Luke Evans). One night, when a traveling Maurice unwittingly trespasses in a castle in the middle of the forest, he is taken prisoner by the beast (Dan Stevens), a prince who was cursed (along with his servants, who were all turned into household objects) by an enchantress. The only way to break the curse is for the beast to find true love, and to be loved in return. Belle bravely offers to trade places with her father, and, over time, begins to see what kind of man the beast can be past his appearance.
As someone who is very sentimental about the original, I can safely say this is an incredibly faithful adaptation. Much of the dialogue from the original is included verbatim in the remake, and there are lots of little moments and details from the animated version that are featured in this one, making me feel wonderfully nostalgic. At the same time, the remake offers some much-needed updates. For example, Belle is a better-developed character in this version. Besides just being a bookworm mostly interested in fairy tales, she helps her father with his creations and shows her own innovation. She’s also more relatable, showing her self-consciousness about how the other villagers view her as “odd.” The romance between Belle and the Beast is better handled as well. The movie shows how their friendship develops first, which makes the transition to romance more believable. The fact that Emma Watson and Dan Stevens have excellent chemistry helps sell it as well.
Besides the actors behind the titular characters, the rest of the cast give wonderful performances as well. Luke Evans and Josh Gad were born to play Gaston and Le Fou. Kevin Kline is a less scatterbrained (but still dreamy) Maurice, and the chemistry between him and Emma is heartwarming. The household staff all gave solid performances, and Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth were especially entertaining.
Besides the adaptation in general, I was mostly nervous about how the singing would be. Emma Watson is a fantastic actress, but I wasn’t sure how she’d do as a singer, and she had some pretty big shoes to fill. Fortunately, she did not disappoint. Watson has a lovely, bright-toned voice, and while it’s not as full-sounding as Paige O’Hara’s was in the original, it was still an excellent fit for the character. Luke Evans gives a decent performance as well; while there isn’t as much bravado in his voice during Gaston as I would like, he really shines in Kill the Beast. Ewan McGregor nails Be Our Guest with his warm, sparkling voice, although something about the number overall feels kind of underwhelming; I’m not sure if the tempo is a little slower, or if the phrasing could be tighter, or there isn’t as much background chorus as there was in the original, but it doesn’t pack the same punch the Oscar-winning number did in the animated version, although it is still enjoyable. Emma Thompson’s rendition of Mrs. Potts’s titular song holds its own against Angela Lansbury’s, which is no small feat. Naturally, Broadway royalty Audra McDonald as Garderobe is the best singer out of the cast, and while her song at the beginning isn’t particularly memorable, she still makes it sound amazing; seriously, she could sing the dictionary and make it sound good. My last music-related critique is that the orchestra is pretty overpowering and tends to drown out the singing a bit.
Lastly, the movie is visually stunning, as anyone who has seen the trailers has probably already gathered. The big group scenes are beautifully shot and reminiscent of the original. The sets are lovely, and the castle is especially breathtaking. The CGI for the beast and the other enchanted characters is very impressive. Most memorable, though, are the costumes; they remain faithful to the animated version while still adding incredible detail. While Belle’s trademark yellow ball gown is gorgeous, my favorite is the one she wears in the final scene of the movie; if I ever get married, I will walk down the aisle in a replica of that dress. While I’m sure I will continue to be skeptical of this wave of live-action remakes Disney has been churning out, Beauty and the Beast is excellent, both as an adaptation of an animated film and as a movie on its own. Whether you’re a hardcore, nostalgic Disney fan like I am or a casual movie-goer, I have no doubt you will enjoy this.
Have you seen ‘Beauty & The Beast’? Well, what did you think?