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“Beauty and The Beast” is a tale that has been told for a long time. In Disney’s re-imagined live-action movie, we revisit the epic animated musical that captured our hearts in 1991. Along with “The Little Mermaid,” this animated feature propelled the studio into the Disney Renaissance and won several Academy awards. Quite an act to follow. And for the most part, the live-action remake lives up to it’s predecessor.
In true Disney fashion writers Evan Spiliotopoulos, Stephen Chbosky and writer and director Bill Condon, inject the old story with modern-day life.
Quoting lyrics from the classic soundtrack, “Something There,” to describe Disney’s fairytale reboot, it’s “new and a bit alarming…” for some. Others will welcome the less provincial touches.
The cast includes Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) as the Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Oscar winner Kevin Kline as Maurice, Josh Gad as LeFou, Ewan McGregor as Lumier, Stanley Tucci as Mr. Cadenza the harpsichord, Tony Award winner Audra McDonald as Mrs. Garderobe, Gugu Mbtha-Raw as Plumette, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and two-time Academy Award winner Emma Thompson as Mrs. Pots.
Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, beautiful and independent young woman, is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) in its castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the beast’s hideous exterior, allowing her to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside.
I attended the press screening a few days before “Beauty and the Beast” was released. I really enjoyed watching this film — even though it was a little over two hours long. After memorizing the movie with my kids years ago, I was looking forward to knowing some of the lines. The movie stayed close to the original story enough for me to know some of the dialogue word for word. I also loved knowing the songs. I probably wasn’t the only one mouthing them during the movie. There are a few new songs incorporated into this version, but I didn’t find them moving or memorable.
The magic of Disney is woven through this beautiful live-action version without overtaking the storyline with over-the-top effects or cheap 3D tricks. Though watching it in 3D really added to the impressive sets.
For the Harry Potter generation, Emma Watson doesn’t disappoint. Watson’s performance as Belle is heartwarming, and her sweet voice compliments her delicate frame. But it’s incomparable to Page O’Hara’s singing voice.
The Beast, on the other hand, is hard to watch under all that CGI faux-fur. His mechanical gait made it difficult for me to get emotionally invested in him. But it was his gaze, those tender eyes, that kept me from completely disbelieving in him.
Except for the Beast, the CGI and photo-realism used to bring Lumier, Cogsworth, Plumette, Mrs. Garderobe, Mrs. Pots and the rest of the enchanted characters were mesmerizing. Mrs. Pots and Chip are so sweet together. I wanted to bring the tea set home with me.
A word of caution for parents. Some parts of this film may be too dark for younger viewers – especially in 3D, which is how I saw it at the screening. There are menacing wolves, gunshots, and a dead body.
Now to address the controversy you’ve likely heard about. Yes, there maybe something there that wasn’t there before. This fresh version of “Beauty and the Beast” cleverly includes some modern social issues.
Let’s cut to the chase and go straight to LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick. There are subtle remarks LeFou directs to Gaston about their relationship. Are they more than just friends? But the reveal comes at the end of the film in a focused frame of LeFou twirling with another man.
There’s another scene when an attacker is wrapped up in women’s clothes and smiles instead of fighting it off.
The cast is also more diverse this time around. Mrs. Garderobe and Mr. Cadenza stand out as an interracial couple among the stark white castle walls, powered faces, and elegant white costumes.
“Who’d had ever thought that this could be…”
Indeed, this tale is as old as time. According to the Smithsonian Channel documentary, “The Real Beauty and the Beast,” the story was likely inspired by events in 1547 at the royal court of Henry II. A boy covered in body hair became the king’s protege. He joined the court, got an education, and even married.
Given the critical and commercial success of the original animated movie, the challenge was enormous. But Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” achieves what most of us expect. The movie sticks to the original classic yet elevates the story, characters, costumes, and sets to a new production level with enchanting use of CGI and photo realism.
The re-imagined “Beauty and the Beast” is a magical trip down memory lane for old-school Disney movie lovers. But it offers a bold and fresh take on the beloved tale for younger fans in search of that special Disney fantasy.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Release Date March 17, 2017
Runtime 129 minutes