When I first saw the trailer to the live action “Beauty And The Beast”, like many, I was blown away and could not wait to see it. But weeks before it came out, I started to get concerned. There were a lot of questions I had going into this movie. Will it be as good as the original Disney animated classic? This movie is a 20 minutes longer than the original, am I going to like the new changes? There has been controversy surrounding the movie, how controversial are these changes? Can Emma Watson even sing?
First off, without a doubt, the original Disney animated classic is by far my favorite Disney movie, and I know that many Disney fans share my enthusisam. Beauty And The Beast has a very important historical significance. In 1991, it was the first animated movie to ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but unfortunately it lost to Silence Of The Lambs that year. Disney was on a roll that started the reemergence of their animation studios that first began with The Little Mermaid in 1989, followed by Beauty And The Beast in 1991 and then with Aladdin in 1992. These three movies made Disney a ton of money not only at the box office but through the sales of their soundtracks and through merchandising. They became an important part of many Disney fans lives and I can’t imagine Disney without them now.
The one thing that these three movies have in common was the wonderful music written for these films by the team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Disney owes this duo so much and it is a real shame that we lost Howard Ashman so early in his career. There was no better musical team that worked together as well, and I doubt there ever will be. They helped bring back the musical element to Disney animated films that they were poorly lacking. Menken teamed up with other lyricists after Ashman’s death, but it never resulted in the same magic. They really were perfect together.
I had seen the 1991 version of Beauty And The Beast on opening night in Manhattan at the 50th Street Guild Theater. As soon as the movie began, I knew it was something different. The very first song, Belle, felt like an operetta and was so well done and memorable. When the movie finally ended, I stayed all the way till the credits ended because I knew at that point I had witnessed something special and didn’t want it to end. I’d say that Beauty And The Beast is one of the few movies that I rate a 10/10 and it is so well deserved and it still holds up to this day. It’s the perfect movie.
OK, on to the review. We all know the story. a prince is heartless and cursed by an Enchantress and turned into a Beast. Only thing that will break the spell is if the Prince learns to love and be loved in return. Belle is a local girl from the town that has nothing in common with the people in her village. Belle offers to stay with the Beast as his prisoner in order for her father to be freed. Belle and Beast get to know each other and eventually have feelings for each other. Belle must leave Beast to save her father. Gaston convinces the town that they have to kill The Beast. Belle makes it back to Beast and then seconds later Beast is killed by Gaston. Love conquers all, even death, and Beast is turned back to a prince and he and Belle and the rest of the castle staff live happily ever after.
That entire story is in the new movie but there is also a lot more to this new version. Is this better than the original? No way. Not even close, but it is definitely a lot better than I expected. It’s actually a very good adaption of the original and I think fans of the original will appreciate the nods to the original as well as some of the changes to the story. In no way does this movie do harm to the classic and you really have to look at as a different telling of the classic and you will enjoy it much more that way.
Let me get to what I liked. Director Bill Condon did an excellent job of bringing the animated classic to life. I really can’t imagine how he could have done a better job with the look of the characters and environments. The cinematography is incredible and very impressive. When you first see Beast’s castle you get a real sense of scale that you really couldn’t appreciate in the original. Most of the actors do a great job with their performance. There is one person I feel was miscast and will get to that later. The standout performance to me was Luke Evans as Gaston followed closely by Dan Stevens as Beast. Speaking of Beast, the CGI used on Beast is some of the most amazing looking CGI I have ever seen. I have seen the movie twice now, and the very first time I was fooled by the CGI of Beast. I really thought that Beast was Dan Stevens in makeup, but that is definitely a fully rendered CGI character with Dan Stevens doing motion capture. Even the second time I kept questioning whether it was makeup or CGI. The only time I was able to notice was during the profile scenes because his nose was too flat to be makeup. A truly incredible achievement. If you have a chance to see it in 3D, I would recommend it. The depth in the 3D version is really well done and there is even an occasional pop out coming out of the screen. It felt as though it was actually snowing in my theater at times due to the excellent 3D. I also liked how they portrayed The Beast in this version. He wasn’t constantly pining after Belle in this one and I felt that made him more interesting to her. She liked romance books and he hated them, although eventually he compromised. But I liked that he went off and did his own thing, like trying to bond with Philippe, Belle’s horse, as Belle watched from a window. I also loved that he popped Belle in the face with a snowball. Reminded me of a scene from Dumb and Dumber.
As I had mentioned previously, I felt that Ashman and Menken were a musical team like no other. The musical score is slightly different at times, but still great. The songs that appeared in the original animated film are in there and for the most part the new performances do the original justice. It’s nice to hear a slightly newer version of a musical piece you are familiar with and I feel they do a really good job with this. The new songs made specifically for the live action film are good songs but feel like they just don’t fit with the movie. First off, the songs from the original movie are very memorable. When you first heard them, you wanted to hear them again. The new songs, which were written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, are very somber and melancholy. There is nothing fun and memorable about them at all. I can’t imagine kids singing these songs at all. They feel like they belong in a Broadway musical more than in a musical movie, if that makes sense. Maybe things would have been different if Ashman was still alive. Again they were good songs, but I could have done without them. These new songs are good bathroom break scenes, so keep that in mind, if you need one, or two. I felt everyone also did a very good job of singing. Emma Watson surprised me at times with her singing. She definitely misses some notes but she definitely lands some too. I think her best performance is “Something There”.
So prior to the release, there was talk about some controversial changes and I will discuss them and how I feel about them. The first one was when Emma Watson came out and said she specifically wanted to change Belle to be more of a feminist in this one. To me, the original Belle was a perfect role model. She was intelligent, a heroine and the lesson you learned from her experience was to not judge a book by its cover. This Belle is exactly the same. I know they added in that Watson’s Belle encourages the young girls to read and I think that was a great addition. I wasn’t 100% crazy about the townspeople destroying her washing machine, but it was not a big deal either. If Watson didn’t mention it, it would have been overlooked. The other controversy is that in this version LeFou, played by Josh Gad, is gay. Last week I watched the original version, and regardless of what people may say, LeFou is not gay in that movie. He is more like one of those guys that you saw in high school that hero worshiped some jock and just wanted to be in that persons circle because he felt it made him cooler. LeFou in the original version barely looks at Gaston. He is there just for the rewards like beer and the attention. The LeFou in this new version definitely has a crush on Gaston. But honestly, it is very subtle. Will some people have a problem with it? Some, but most will not. And as far as kids go, it will go right over their heads. I liked Josh Gad’s performance, but I’ll get to that in a bit. I think the problem is that director Mike Condon announced that LeFou was gay and then it was picked up all over the internet and there were all kinds of speculation. If Condon hadn’t said anything, this would have been a non issue. I also think Disney came out and supported the decision publicly because they wanted to stand by their director. My suggestion is, if you are concerned; don’t judge until you see it. I honestly think it is harmless and some of it is very funny too.
So now onto the bad. SPOILERS ahead. This movie was dark. And I don’t mean in tone, I mean visually. It’s like the director added a dark filter and I felt that it was a bit over the top that resulted in the loss of detail in many scenes. The one person I felt that was miscast was Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s father. It felt like Kline just did not want to be there and also felt he did not fit the role. I also did not like that they made LaFou a sympathetic character. Almost like the victim of an abusive relationship. In the original, LaFou was just a big of a jerk as Gaston was and even tried to kill Lumiere. I did not like that they blamed Beast being so mean and cruel due to his father being so abusive to him. That wasn’t needed. I didn’t like that they brought in Belle’s mother story and had her parallel Beast’s mother, where they both died to illness. That made Beast and Belle have something more in common other than their love for literature. Just a little too much. They also expanded the Enchantress’ role. Basically, she was a bit of a jerk. She cursed the Beast, then cursed a bunch of innocent people because the Prince wouldn’t take a rose from her and then she erased the memories of their loved ones. Boy, did she get up on the wrong side of the bed! Then she lives outside the village as the hag, Agatha. Why didn’t she curse Gaston at the point she could have saved Maurice? They also added some new characters, like the Maestro, who was married to the Wardrobe. And Lumiere has a girlfriend, Plumette. Plumette was in the original but they definitely expanded her role and felt that the character that suffered the most from the addition of new unnecessary characters was Cogsworth. Cogsworth felt like a second or even third banana in this movie. He barely had anything to do or say. I also felt that at times they made Gaston too good and then at times they made him too bad. Like in the beginning, he was kind of nice to Belle, and not overbearing. Actually asking her if he could come over for dinner. I kind of felt like her behavior towards him was snobbish in the beginning. Give the guy a chance, Belle. But Gaston punching Maurice in the face and then leaving him tied up to be eaten by wolves was too much. A big problem for me was that the ending did not have anywhere as near the emotional impact as the animated version did. The ending of the animated version still gives me chills to this day. The end of this movie, I was like, OK, I’m outta here. Last thing, and definitely nit picking, that magic mirror was way too small. You really couldn’t see anything in that thing.
Overall, it is a good live action adaption of the original animated classic. It’s hard to judge it on its own without thinking of the original. At times it is very faithful to the animated classic and at other times they added things I felt that could have been left out. But if this was a perfect bit by bit adaption of the original, I’m sure most people would complain it was “too” much like the original. So kudos to them for taking a risk. If I was told that I would be stuck on a desert island and I could only take one of these movies with me, there is no question I would take the original. But I would also be glad there would be electricity on the island too.
Definitely go see it. It’s a lot of fun and very well done. Just don’t expect the same magic as the original.
I give “Beauty And The Beast” a 7/10.
Editor’s note: Seven?!?
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