Walt Disney Pictures have been moving full steam ahead in recent years with live action adaptations of many of their amazing animated properties. First, there was Alice and Wonderland and the polarising Maleficent. Then the acclaimed Cinderella and the Oscar winning The Jungle Book in 2016. Now the highly successful studio has finally decided to adapt from it's most memorable renaissance period, much to the anticipation of many Disney animation fans, who were raised on a series of films that arguably changed the way audiences see movies. This renaissance period started with The Little Mermaid in 1989, and was responsible for engrossing an entire generation of children, who now in adulthood are sharing the same joyful experiences with their own kids. The original animated Beauty and the Beast was the next film to be released in 1991, and saw audiences going back again, and again to see the marvellous tale on the silver screen.
To this very day, the brilliant Beauty and the Beast is the only Disney animated feature film to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. There have indeed been two other subsequent nominations in recent times, specifically Disney Pixar's Up and Toy Story 3, however these particular nominations only occurred after the Academy expanded their number of best picture nominees. In that way Beauty and the Beast stands on its own, fulfilling the legendary Walt Disney's great desire for animated films to be recognised in the same breath as the other great films of ages past. This was a desire that started all the way back in 1937 with the revolutionary Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
As a consequence, the live action adaption of Beauty and the Beast was always a logical decision, with perhaps only the development of new visual effects technology limiting its inevitable fruition. MPC and Weta Digital's work on last year's The Jungle Book changed all that, clearly demonstrating that VFX technology was finally up to speed allowing Disney's imagination to run wild. The Jungle Book created some of the most surreal Oscar winning visual effects to have ever been seen in the cinema. Conjuring incredibly realistic singing and talking animals for the silver screen proved that Disney should have no problem with magically casting a spell on series on inanimate objects, as well as a giant furry Beast.
Creating the beloved characters in the animated version was an incredible feat in itself, however Beauty and the Beast's immense impact didn't stop there. Disney also elevated the musical genre to an entirely new level, so much so that three of the film's songs were nominated for best original song at the 1992 Oscars, all within the same category. It subsequently won the award for Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's song "Beauty and the Beast", which was sung by the legendary Angela Lansbury. Menken's opulent musical composition also won the movie another Oscar for best original score.
To put it abruptly, the live action adaptation has a lot to live up to. However, the new version of the story is more than up to the challenge as Disney eloquently retells the tale. From the moment the prologue's familiar haunting music permeates the cinema audiences will be instantaneously transported back to the mysterious world where all the magic began. Alan Menken returns once again to score the picture, and his tremendous presence is felt immediately. The new film's score is perhaps even more grandiose and opulent than the previous incarnation, building on the original's ambience and becoming one of the best characters in itself.
While the new film, for the most part, is a retread of it's older brother, it does offer a number of new sequences and songs that successfully lengthen the narrative. These effects are noticed immediately, with a new prologue explaining the state of affairs. The sequence is incredibly theatrical, establishing the proud and pompous prince's devilish persona and encapsulating a period of French history that has been long forgotten. The unique arrangement will perhaps polarise some audiences, however, the scene effectively establishes the beastly master as tremendously superficial, vain and hateful.
The new sequence also succeeds in its attempt to make the master of the house inherently unlikeable, an aspect that the character doesn't entirely recover from throughout the film. His unsurprising transformation into the Beast rectifies his character flaws somewhat, however he doesn't seem to share the same charm as his previous animated incarnation. Some of this is due to character design, with the Beast lacking many of the tremendously lovable characteristics of his predecessor. This is undeniably a byproduct of catering to a more mature audience, which see's the character transformed into more of a beast and less of a cute friendly bear. Unfortunately, this is sure to be a characteristic that audiences will miss from the original.
In spite of these issues, the new reincarnation of the film really is poetry in motion, or perhaps more accurately seamless Broadway on the silver screen. The movie undeniably capitalises on the opportunity to re-imagine the classic Disney film and reinterpret it for an entirely new generation of movie goers. The beginning of the story is about as strong as we have seen from Disney in recent years. Following the prologue, the film conjures an opening scene that is awe inspiring and amazing to witness. Best of all it is guaranteed to keep you smiling. The sequence features the song "Belle" and its subsequent "Reprise", and is perhaps the best part of the movie. It is a marvellous spectacle and is executed brilliantly, from the stupendous sets to the superb costumes. Most of all Alan Menken's composition of the song is absolutely captivating, providing the perfect debut for Emma Watson's incarnation of the lovable Belle.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast - Emma Watson as Belle
To put it lightly, the introduction of Emma Watson as Belle is utterly astounding. Her presence is breathtaking, and the rest of the cast doesn't really hold a candle to her luminescent performance. There is no understating it, Watson is absolutely fantastic in the role. She is charming, beautiful and conveys an aura that is difficult for the other characters to match. She also takes the character of Belle to an incredible place that will stay with audiences for a tremendously long time, establishing a level of self-reliance and empowerment that exceeds the original depiction.
Emma Watson is also surprisingly melodious. Her performance of the song "Belle" is easily her strongest moment. She is utterly pitch perfect during the scene, singing a modified version of the original Paige O'Hara song that everyone fell in love with. The performance is astoundingly enjoyable and the arrangement also suits her vocal range exceptionally well. Watson also seems to have an amazing level of maturity, which is especially conveyed during her performance opposite primarily visual effects based characters. Her incredible acting ability makes each character's existence all the more credible. Much in the mould of a Mark Hamill in The Empire Strikes Back opposite the puppetry of Yoda and the robotics of R2D2, Watson assists with making each individual character all the more real. Emma Watson is also able to conjure chemistry with the Beast where there seemingly is none. She definitely deserves a lot of credit. Her performance is simply stellar and she is undoubtedly the perfect casting. The role of Belle suits her immensely well, allowing her to effectively transition from her previous Harry Potter persona into a most memorable Disney princess. Hopefully, her future roles remain on the same trajectory.
While Emma Watson undeniably offers the stand out performance of the film, veteran thespian Kevin Kline follows closely behind. He is utterly marvellous in the role of Belle's eccentric and highly likeable father Maurice, exuding a level of creative competence that is remarkable to watch. He makes the role his own, and perhaps even takes the role further than the animated version ever did. Kline and Watson share wonderful chemistry on screen, perhaps developing the most interesting relationship within the film. The relationship is also vital in exploring unknown information regarding Belle's mother, which again reinforces Disney's decision to delve into the fantasy world once again. Kline's presence is also vital in making Belle's character stronger and all the more believable, especially in the overwhelmingly surreal landscape. The portrayal of Maurice proves that Kevin Kline only seems to get better with time. It is undoubtedly one of his landmark performances.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast - Luke Evans as Gaston
The opening sequence also has the privilege of providing a perfect introduction for the brutish Gaston and his incredibly entertaining sidekick LeFou, played respectively by Luke Evans and the amazing Josh Gad. It is utterly unbelievable how well Evans suits the part, as he commits to the role wholeheartedly and with full force. As the unbearable Gaston he is an absolute triumph. He exudes an incredibly formidable nature while at the same time being barbarically hilarious. His vocal calibre is also absolutely outstanding, which will completely stun and pleasantly surprise audiences. It is a highly unexpected treat, especially during his regular fits of vanity and self-gratification. His persistent attempts at wooing Belle are also incredibly funny, as he humorously justifies her refusals to his poorly calculated advances. It is a brilliant performance.
Josh Gad is also an absolute revelation in his role as the highly humorous LeFou. His musical prowess should be of no surprise. He was in the original Tony Award winning Broadway production of The Book of Mormon after all. His epic and simultaneous introduction with Gaston is one of the absolute standout moments in the film. Their unique chemistry is incredibly delightful, greatly assisting with the film's narrative drive. This particular incarnation of LeFou is also more thoroughly developed, providing him with much clearer motivations than his predecessor. His expanded role is definitely worth the price of admission. Gad's distinctly modern interpretation will stay with audiences for quite some time, as he provides one of the most memorable musical moments during his performance of the song "Gaston". The scene is quirky and highly creative, building upon the original version and taking it to new heights. LeFou is destined to be one of the favourite characters in the film, as Gad offers a tremendously genuine performance that is guaranteed to keep audiences beaming. In short, he is the ideal comic foil to the antics of his seemingly brainless and boarish counterpart. Again it is an absolutely perfect casting.
Disney also does marvellous work in its attempt to bring life to the collection of antiques within the Beast's castle. The production team led by director Bill Condon successfully creates a fabulous story world, with an attention to detail that is astounding. The glorious sets nearly take on a life of their own. However, Disney does try to reinvent the wheel a little too often in this version, instead of honouring the genius of the original source material. Some characters work incredibly well, while others struggle to capture the energy and brilliance of the original. This is particularly evident with characters such as Madame Garderobe played by Audra McDonald and Maestro Cadenza played by Stanley Tucci. McDonald's performance can be grating at times, while the brilliant Stanley Tucci seems to have little to do with the exception of being a punchline.
Ian McKellen's rendition of the compliant clock Cogsworth however is utterly stupendous. He is a marvellous casting coup for Disney, as he eloquently adds stature and credibility to the film via a creatively calculated performance. McKellen is extremely well suited to the role, with a fantastic character design that pays homage to the original incarnation. It has to be said that Cogsworth also seems to have little to do within the story, but regardless of this fact he is an essential cog in the overall narrative. This is especially noticed during his special interaction with audience favourite Lumiere.
Ewan McGregor's depiction of Lumiere will be strangely polarising for many. This assessment is not necessarily based on the admirable McGregor performance, but more to do with the unusual character design choices. The visual effects decisions are incredibly peculiar, as Lumiere is relegated to the role of a candle tipped brass sculpture instead of an authentic candelabra. Again Disney in this instance has perhaps tried too hard to creatively evolve a concept which was utterly perfect in its original inception. An unfortunate byproduct of this is the creation of a character that is essentially unrecognisable from the original. While Ewan McGregor's performance is strong, his reinterpreted accent may also seem strange to some viewers. This is undeniably to be a byproduct of McGregor being asked to offer a variation of the original accent, seemingly with an American audience in mind. The final result is quite disappointing, especially for those who were so invested in the original interpretation of the character, in addition to the sensational voice work of Jerry Orbach on the original movie. If there is a redeeming quality, it's undeniably Ewan McGregor's performance of the song "Be Our Guest". The rendition of the song and the accompanying visual extravaganza are an absolute triumph. The plethora of colourful elements seem to encompass the entire cinema in a way that builds on the original. It has to be said that the song and musical arrangement are not as good at the former version, however the visual effects work is spectacular.
The lovely Emma Thompson is surprisingly well suited to the role of Mrs. Potts. Filling the shoes of the incredible Angela Lansbury is a tremendously difficult task, but all things considered she does quite well. Thompson imitates the animated incarnation of the character brilliantly, while sprinkling subtle nuances of her own personality into the lovable teapot. In doing so she also remarkably maintains the original essence of the character, which is highly unexpected and most appreciated. They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and in this case, it serves the character and the story incredibly well. In this particular instance, the film doesn't feel the need to modify the character too much, which is an incredibly wise decision. It is a worthy effort and highlights Thompson's adaptability and amazing versatility. However, it has to be said that the visual appearance of Mrs. Potts in her teapot form seems slightly unfinished and perhaps even lifeless. While this may be an intentional decision by the visual effects department, it feels strangely lazy on their part, especially considering how much personality the original animated version of the character conveyed. The role of Mrs. Potts' little boy Chip has also been greatly reduced. This is in favour of developing Belle's character a little further, a development that primarily focuses on increasing her level of self-reliance.
Dan Stevens also offers a most admirable effort in his role as the Beast. He does his best to bring the character to life, while offering a tremendously imposing persona. However Stevens' efforts do fall flat on occasion, primarily due the Beast's new design and appearance, which can be distracting for audiences so invested in the original. In all honesty, the new Beast is also not as likable as the original incarnation, being unable to replicate the genius performance of Robby Benson in the former version as well as the brilliant animation. Dan Stevens does have his strong moments, particularly during his performance the new song "Evermore", however he does seem to lack the aura necessary for the character. His chemistry with Emma Watson also seems to be slightly forced, which is not helped by poorly executing the romantic elements within the script. If there is a saving grace, it's the quintessential "Beauty and the Beast" ballroom sequence. The lead up is highly amusing, and the digital animators execute the Beast's emotions and facial expressions incredibly well. The ballroom sequence itself is fabulous, emulating what worked so well in the original. The costumes are fantastic and the design is sensational. Emma Thompson's rendition of the title song is also surprisingly faithful to the original, however it doesn't surpass it.
In summary, Beauty and the Beast is a worthy addition to Disney's collection of live action remakes. The choreography is stunning and the character introductions during the opening scene are supremely well executed through a musical number that is all too familiar. It is arguably the best sequence in the movie, and starts off so strongly that the rest of the movie finds it difficult to maintain the same trajectory. In an incredible turn of events the film and story manage to do just that, until the movie inevitably loses narrative drive during periods of the second act. This seems to be a byproduct of Beauty and the Beast's musical nature. The musical numbers are all fantastic, however much like some of the best shows on Broadway the film probably deserves a period of intermission. The new additional songs and musical set pieces are also probably unnecessary primarily due to issues with narrative drive. It also doesn't help that these new songs are nowhere near as good as the originals that made the animated movie so famous. The only exception is perhaps the song "Evermore", which is appropriately placed and reasonably well delivered. However, these particular points are more to do with flaws within the musical genre itself. Beauty and the Beast superbly manages to find solutions to most of these obstacles, but unfortunately not all of them. Regardless of these sticking points, this incarnation of Beauty and the Beast is undeniably the best musical to hit the screen in years. It is also perhaps even a better musical than La La Land. Don't be surprised if it becomes the highest grossing movie musical of all time. It's a definite must see at your local cinema.