It’s a tale as old as time so don’t expect much in the way of innovation, other than Disney introducing a gay character (something that should have occurred years ago), in the 2017 musical, Beauty and the Beast. Disney’s messing with one of its most beloved properties by creating a new live-action version and there are Beauty and the Beast fans who refuse to see this take on the classic story so as not to sully their memories of the groundbreaking, Oscar-winning 1991 animated film. However, I’d advise those naysayers who are put off by the very idea of a remake to just give it a chance. It’s not a beat-for-beat reproduction, but this Beauty and the Beast does bring the best of the animated classic to life in a stunningly gorgeous, hugely entertaining blending of live-action and CG characters.
Just as with Disney’s Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), the 2017 Beauty and the Beast remake is loyal to the animated version in nearly every way, to the point of even sticking with the color palette from the animated movie. The musical numbers capture the spirit of the original film and are brought to life by a talented cast led by Emma Watson (The Harry Potter franchise) and Dan Stevens (currently starring in FX’s Legion). Casting Emma Watson as Belle was a genius choice by director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) as was tapping Dan Stevens as the prince who transforms into a beast and is ultimately changed back by love.
For those who need a refresher, Beauty and the Beast tells the story of the beautiful Belle, a young woman thought of as odd in the small village where she was born and raised. She loves to read, is devoted to her father (Kevin Kline), and as the prettiest girl in town she’s sought after by the obnoxious, muscle-bound Gaston (Luke Evans). Gaston views himself as a prize catch but Belle sees him for what he is, a self-absorbed cad.
Gaston hounding her for a date proves to be the least of her problems once her beloved father is taken prisoner by the Beast. The Beast was once a handsome, narcissistic prince but a curse transformed him into a massive hairy creature with horns. Now he roams the halls of his castle far away from the village, keeping company only with his servants who were transformed into household items. If he doesn’t find someone willing to love him in his beastly state, he’ll be forced to remain in his current form, as will his servants.
Belle searches for her dad and winds up at the Beast’s castle where she finds her poor father locked in a cell. She offers to take his place, giving the servants/household items hope for their return to human form if only she’ll see through the Beast’s rough exterior and gruff manner to discover the now-decent man hidden beneath the fur and horns.
Emma Watson is dazzling as Belle, commanding the screen and giving Belle strength, sass, and real spirit. She’s the perfect Belle, totally captivating as the iconic character. Dan Stevens is equally terrific, as is Luke Evans as the dastardly Gaston. Josh Gad returns to the world of Disney musicals after voicing Olaf the snowman in Frozen as Gaston’s trusty sidekick, LeFou. LeFou has a bigtime crush on Gaston, but Gaston’s too full of himself to see what’s obvious to everyone else. LeFou’s love for his rugged BFF is a fun subplot that adds new layers to every scene the characters share.
Beauty and the Beast boasts an A-list voice cast that includes Ewan McGregor as Lumiere the talking candlestick, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza the piano, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts the teapot. Each deliver lively voice performances that add a real warmth and humor to the film.
Once Belle makes her way to the castle, Beauty and the Beast really hits its stride. The musical numbers are outstanding, with the “Be Our Guest” number so spectacular there’s almost too much going on on screen to absorb in a single viewing. “Be Our Guest” ranks right up there as one of the most entertaining musical numbers in recent history.
The CGI effects are spectacular and smoothly integrated into scenes. Beauty and the Beast is a sure bet to earn an Oscar nomination for its visual effects, which are extraordinary but not so overly distracting they diminish the performances of the actors.
I walked out of the press screening and “magical” was the word that immediately sprang to mind when asked about the film. Beauty and the Beast was one of the few films in my nearly 20 years of reviewing theatrical releases that I wanted to immediately sit through again as soon as it ended. Director Condon keeps the film moving right along and with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the titular roles, this live-action musical is astonishingly beautiful and, best of all, provides two solid hours of sheer escapist entertainment.
MPAA Rating: PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images
Running Time: 129 minutes
Release Date: March 17, 2017